A marijuana opponent in congress is now seeing that the schedule 1 classification of marijuana makes no sense and is working on a bill to remove cannabis from the restrictive category so that more research will be permitted on the plant. Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland does not believe that marijuana has any real medicinal value nor does he believe that it is a harmless drug that people should be smoking casually. He wants research to be conducted on marijuana to prove his theories.
Rep. Andy Harris, M.D., is a towering, surprisingly skinny 60-year-old, but as he walks the halls of Congress no heads turn. Tourists haven’t heard of him, national reporters mostly ignore him and rarely does a single one of the thousands of camera phones on the Capitol grounds come out to capture a shot of the four-term Republican from Maryland. While that seemingly perpetual level of anonymity is par for the course for most of the nation’s 435 members of the House of Representatives, Harris has gained notoriety in Washington. Not the Washington we see on T.V., adorned in marble, starched collars and bullshit banter, but the gritty little city surrounding the seat of the federal government that struggles with segregation, high incarceration rates and a few residents still struggling to kick their PCP or opioid habits.
It’s in that Washington that Harris is known as legal marijuana’s greatest foe, because he successfully got Congress to step in and block local Washington officials from setting up a regulatory regime for weed after voters overwhelmingly approved recreational marijuana at the ballot box. But the conservative member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus is an original co-sponsor of legislation that could make marijuana users everywhere smile, because it turns the current debate over pot on its head – connecting the far right to the progressive left when it comes to marijuana.
While Harris opposes most cannabis use, even for most medicinal purposes, he’s a smart guy who studied anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins University, and he sees himself as a pragmatist. So while he hates weed and thinks it’s a dangerous gateway drug, he also recognizes the federal prohibition on all forms of marijuana has left the nation void of serious science on the plant that people are now legally smoking, munching on and vaping from coast to coast. That’s why Harris has teamed up with some of the more pro-pot lawmakers to push legislation that loosens the classification of weed so that universities, hospitals and the private sector can finally study marijuana without fear of getting in trouble with the feds.
While most proponents of the bill think research on weed will prove its medicinal qualities, Harris thinks the opposite. “As a physician, I believe it’s going to show it’s really not helpful in a whole lot of diseases,” Rep. Harris tells Rolling Stone. “And in fact what will be shown to be helpful – as has been [shown] in a lot of the diseases where it’s useful –are actually not the whole marijuana plant but purified components of marijuana, like CBD or THC.”
The current roadblocks for researching weed stem from it being classified as a Schedule I narcotic. That puts marijuana in the same category as heroin, LSD and peyote, while cocaine is merely a Schedule II narcotic. When weed was so stringently scheduled in the 1970s it was mostly used by blacks and Latinos, so many drug experts argue the classification was racist at its core. Others say there were cultural issues at play, because back then white middle-class parents and lawmakers didn’t want their kids to get a hold of the plant that was most associated with anti-war protests and hippies.
But times have rapidly changed, as the majority of states now allow some form of medicinal marijuana and eight states and the District of Columbia now allow legal recreational weed. Initially lawmakers pushing this new proposal, dubbed the Medical Marijuana Research Act, had wanted to give marijuana its own classification – Schedule I C – but instead they agreed to go the less controversial route and just keep marijuana listed as a Schedule I, while drastically reducing the restrictions on studying weed and expediting the review process for research applications at the Department of Justice. The bill would give an exemption for studying marijuana that the DOJ would never grant to people who wanted to research, say, peyote or heroin. All sides agree the current hurdles erected to keep people from researching weed have left a void of knowledge on pot.