US Representative Greg Gianforte delivered a speech during a Congressional subcommittee hearing on January 15. The hearing, titled “Cannabis Policies for the New Decade,” was held by the Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The hearing was the first ever in the committee’s history to center around marijuana use. The purpose of the hearing was to review federal marijuana use policies and to discuss proposed pieces of legislation that introduce policy changes, such as the rescheduling of marijuana as a Schedule I drug.

Schedule I drugs are defined by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Substances under Schedule I include marijuana, heroin, and LSD.

One piece of legislation, introduced to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in 2019, proposes rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug. Schedule III drugs are defined by the DEA as “drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.” Substances under Schedule III include low concentrations of codeine, ketamine, and anabolic steroids.

Gianforte began his speech before the subcommittee by stating that “understanding the consequences of marijuana…is imperative,” and that “we should be concerned about the lack of federal research” on the drug. Gianforte called for more research before advancing legislation to reschedule marijuana.

“We should know how best to help people who need medical marijuana, and how greater access to recreational marijuana will impact our communities, families, and users,” Gianforte said in his speech. “However, expanding access to marijuana without the benefit and guidance of the facts and sound science is of grave concern. This is incredibly concerning because we have an addiction crisis in my home state of Montana. Methamphetamines, and now, opioids, devastate our communities and tear apart too many families.”

Gianforte expressed his support for programs in Montana that aid drug users in their recovery, such as drug courts that offer treatment instead of incarceration.

“To consider making any Schedule I drug legal and more readily available without adequate research is a misplaced priority as addiction continues to ravage our country. Instead, we should support focusing on combating addiction, building on this committee’s bipartisan work and the success of the SUPPORT Act from last Congress. We need to continue to support those who face addiction and need the help the most, rather than making marijuana easier to access when we don’t know the full effects on our communities.”

The SUPPORT Act became law in 2018. The act provides support and treatment, including Medicaid provisions, to those battling opioid addiction, and details guidelines for the sale and distribution of opioids.

Gianforte also spoke briefly about the high suicide rate in Montana and questioned Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about the potential for marijuana to increase suicidal thoughts or actions in users.

Dr. Volkow, delivering testimony during the hearing, responded that the chemical THC in marijuana can cause paranoia and anxiety at high doses. She acknowledged that users in this state may be more likely to attack themselves or another. However, she emphasized the fact that those with suicidal tendencies may be more likely to use marijuana in the first place.

Dr. Volkow said that “we need to determine” if studies on marijuana are reproducible before reaching conclusions about the drug’s effect on users’ mental health. “We don’t have sufficient knowledge” about the effects of the drug, Volkow stated.

“That brings us back to the fact that we just have to do more research,” Gianforte responded, and concluded his speech.

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