Washington Issues the State’s First Cannabis Research License: Why It Matters to You

What happened

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board late last year issued the state’s first license to produce, process and possess marijuana for research purposes. The license was issued to a Seattle pharmaceutical company, who are conducting research on cannabinoid-based therapeutics.

Why it matters

One core hurtle preventing national legalization of medical marijuana is the catch 22 at the heart of federal policy. As we’ve written about before, cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, defined as having no medical value whatsoever, and legally regarded as more dangerous than even methamphetamine and cocaine (which are Schedule 2 drugs). This system makes it quite difficult to legally study its benefits, which paradoxically, would be almost certainly required to change its classification in advance of a more liberal national pot policy.

Because of these federal roadblocks to research, the license awarded in Washington State has some greater implications for the industry at large. Evidence of successful state-level research could theoretically tip the national consensus and lend credence to calls for more research permits or even marijuana rescheduling.

The pharmaceutical lab awarded the permit—Verda Bio—had to jump through some hoops to attain it, and it took over two years to be issued. To work around the federal policy, Washington’s legislature actually re-wrote state law to allow it, marking a potential model for other states who may be interested in a deeper understanding and scientific substantiation of medical marijuana’s health claims.

The studies being conducted by Verda are aimed at developing a better understanding of the various compounds found in the cannabis plant, in order to treat various health conditions more pointedly and reliably. Verda is researching strains cultivated in-house, which is also somewhat groundbreaking—typically, scientists who want to study the substance must use federally approved samples, which aren’t as potent as the offerings readily available to consumers.

More of this advanced research and eventually, clinical trials, are vital to deepening the collective understanding marijuana’s overall health benefits and lesser known cannabinoid compounds. Moreover, it would expand credibility in the eyes of state and federal policymakers who hold out on more liberal medical marijuana laws citing insufficient research on harms and benefits.

At present, Colorado is reportedly in the process of initiating research licenses, and Oregon has a system in place but has not yet issued any.

Meanwhile, the US surgeon general last week made public comments tipping his hand as to his feelings on marijuana’s current scheduling: Surgeon General Jerome Adams said the federal government should rethink how it classifies marijuana, airing concern that the plant’s current Schedule 1 status inhibits research.

Positively, there is indeed increasing bipartisan support in Congress to either reschedule cannabis or amend the scheduling system to permit marijuana research.

Watch this space for more as it happens!