AR: Law Changes May Prompt Marijuana Research

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The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act will be on the ballot this election year, potentially erasing barriers for marijuana research at the UofA.

If passed by voters, the act will allow access to medical marijuana by obtaining a license from the Department of Health before buying from a Cannabis Care Center, according to the AMCA website.

In Arkansas, marijuana is a Schedule VI drug, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. On a federal level, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration website.

“Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence,” according to the DEA website.

Marijuana is categorized in the same group with heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

Despite the Schedule I classification, universities like Louisiana State University and the University of Mississippi both conduct marijuana research.

The University of Mississippi has had a permit from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to legally grow and study marijuana since the mid-1970s, said Sydney Slotkin DuPriest, a communications specialist in the School of Pharmacy, in an email.

“The National Center for Natural Products Research, which handles our marijuana research, informs me that most any university is able to get a permit to do research on marijuana,” DuPriest said in an email.

The National Center for Natural Products Research is only at the University of Mississippi and is a university-based research unit, according to National Center for Natural Products Research website.

The University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy supplies marijuana to the NIDA Drug Supply Program, which provides them to “researchers studying their harmful and beneficial effects”, according to the National Center for National Products Research website.

University of Mississippi researchers that work with cannabis study specific aspects of the chemistry of marijuana, DuPriest said in the email.

While the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy does not advocate for smoking cannabis for recreational or medicinal uses, research has suggested that chemicals derived from the plant can lead to the development of prescription drugs, according to the site.

LSU’s motion to research marijuana was approved at the Board of Supervisors meeting on June 24, 2016, Ernest Ballard, the media relations director in the LSU Division of Strategic Communications, said in an email.

No research has started because of its recent approval, but the in the future, it will be for medical reasons.

“The LSU Agricultural Center is approved by the LSU Board of Supervisors to research marijuana for medicinal purposes within the confines of the various laws passed on the issue,” Ballard said in the email. “The law would permit the growing of the plant and research related to medical purposes only.”

No one has tried to obtain a license for marijuana research at the UofA, said Jim Rankin, vice provost for research and economic development.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is push our knowledge base, and it takes doing research to be able to do that,” Rankin said. “Somebody has to conduct that research.”

The UofA would need federal permission for any type of marijuana research, similar to what the University of Mississippi and LSU have, said Wayne Mackay, the head of the Horticulture Department.

“I think there’s a lot of pressure coming from the states’ side,” Mackay said. “As more and more states are legalizing, there’s more and more pressure on Congress to change some of their regulations on marijuana because there’s a lot of difficulties in the current situation.”

For example, pesticides that are not labeled under federal rules are used in marijuana growth, so there is no Environmental Protection Agency registration involved, Mackay said.

Furthermore, federal law prohibits banks from taking money made from even legal transactions involving marijuana, meaning businesses cannot deposit money and customers must pay in cash, according to the Controlled Substances Act.

There is a pressure on state legislators to discuss with Congress either a change in the categorization of marijuana or a change in the rights and regulations that will help deal with the unintended consequences of having the industry but also having it illegal, Mackay said.

The Obama administration is set to release a new policy that will increase the supply of marijuana to researchers, according to a New York Times article published Aug. 10.

Mackay said that marijuana research would be like most other studies and would likely go to people with an expertise in a specific aspect of the project like nutrition or pest management.

Rankin said marijuana research is needed to understand the good or bad effects.

Some might think to heed the advice of the DEA or to avoid the topic of marijuana research, but for people like senior Amy Rayburn, it is not always simple.

Rayburn said she thinks the UofA should look into marijuana research.

“I think if they really look into detail, they would find more pros than cons and be able to relate it to medication for illnesses,” Rayburn said.

Rayburn’s mother has Parkinson’s Disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement.

“She has been told by her numerous doctors from out of the country to use marijuana to help her not take 17 pills a day for her Parkinson’s,” Rayburn said.

Marijuana helps control her mother’s shaking and is something that helps her sleep so she does not hallucinate, Rayburn said.

Additionally, Rayburn and her psychiatrist have discussed using marijuana to help with anxiety and sleeping.

“I think people see the war on drugs as very black and white, and marijuana is a drug, and that’s just how they see it,” Rayburn said. “Without knowing more details about marijuana and marijuana use, then we will never make that step toward medical usage.”

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Law Changes May Prompt Marijuana Research
Author: Meleah Perez
Contact: 479-575-3406
Photo Credit: Megan Sebeck
Website: The Arkansas Traveler