A conservative US senator says “it’s high time,” haha, for more medical marijuana research

The conservative senator shows his sense of humor and calls for compassion.
The conservative senator shows his sense of humor and calls for compassion.
Image: Reuters/Aaron P. Bernstein -
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For an 83-year-old Utah Republican who says he is “strongly against recreational marijuana use,” Orrin Hatch has a remarkable command of cannabis-related slang.

“It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana,” Hatch said today in the Senate. “To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act. Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana.”

MEDS is the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act of 2017, which Hatch crafted together with Democratic senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii. The bill would remove impediments to scientific study and growth of therapeutic marijuana, and requires the federal government to develop recommendations for growing it.

Hatch is not the first Republican to put his name to a bill making access to medical marijuana easier, or to promote therapeutic cannabis research, but he’s certainly the most prominent. His arguments, bad puns aside, were carefully crafted to appeal to conservatives by adding a subtle anti-government twist. “Regulatory hoops significantly delay the life-changing medication Americans need,” he said, arguing that his bill would ensure quality control, safety, and thorough study by scientists rather than allowing people who aren’t licensed medical practitioners to make recommendations at dispensaries.

But Hatch also urged his colleagues not to ignore mounting evidence that cannabis has medicinal benefits. He cited to the case of “a young man” from Utah who takes 17 epilepsy medications daily, none of which help with his seizures as much as medical cannabis could. The senator said his “friend” and others continue to suffer while the federal government does nothing and there may be safe, effective treatment available.

Hatch noted too that many Americans are addicted to opioids and that medical cannabis could provide a safe, non-narcotic alternative for the treatment of chronic pain. Conservative Christian politicians at the state level—in Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, and Hatch’s home state of Utah—have increasingly been pushing for the legalization of medical marijuana for just this reason. “I understand that medical marijuana is a difficult issue but we can’t shrink from our duties…I hope my colleagues today won’t stay away from making the hard choices,” Hatch said.