It’s not exactly a slow weekon Capitol Hill, what with the third presidential impeachment hearing in the nation’s history, but Congress is still finding a little time for weed.

In its “Cannabis Policies for the New Decade” hearing, the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce met to discuss cannabis for the first time on Wednesday.

Lawmakers touched on ways to improve research into cannabis, exploring a wide range of ideas up to and including the removal of cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances.

The main issue at hand is what CNNhas called weed’s “chicken and the egg problem.” Cannabis remains Schedule I in the U.S.’s Controlled Substances Act, a designation for drugs with no medicinal value.

Most people accept that marijuana does have medicinal use, and more than twenty states have passed laws to that effect. But, because cannabis is federally illegal, it remains hard for the federal government to perform rigorous medical research.

Since the government can’t run tests to prove if weed can be used as medicine, it is unable to designate it as medicine. As a result, federal legalization is stuck in a vicious circle.

“The federal government has hidden behind that Catch-22 for a long, long time,” said Representative Joe Kennedy III, a Democrat from Massachusetts.

During the hearing, officials from several federal agencies including were questioned. 

Matthew Strait, senior policy adviser for the DEA’s Diversion Control Division, said the agency is working “expeditiously” to remove barriers to cannabis research, including expanding the number of licensed cultivators for the research from one to more than one.

The FDA, for their part, said they are also stepping up theirs efforts to research cannabis medicine, in particular CBD. “We’re looking at a full range of options,” said Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director for regulatory programs at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation of Research.

Lawmakers asked Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, whether descheduling cannabis would accelerate research. She said it would, but also warned that doing so “may have unintended, negative consequences,” like a decreased public perception of potential risks and negative effects of cannabis use.

Photo via Flickr/Arend

Natalie