Earlier this month the House of Representatives made a historic step towards federal legalization of marijuana, when they voted in favor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reform and Expungement (MORE) Act.

The MORE Act, which passed through the House on December 4th, would not only decriminalize cannabis at a federal level, but it would offer legitimate banking routes for cannabis businesses and even expunge records of cannabis felony convictions across the country. However, even though it had made it through the House, most spectators simply accepted that it would not stand a chance in the Senate. With Mitch McConnell standing in the way, the odds of seeing cannabis legalized in the near future were looking slim.  

Until now. On Tuesday night the Senate approved a bipartisan bill to promote research into the effects of cannabis, which surprised almost everyone — and which is rekindling optimism among pro-cannabis circles about the MORE Act’s prospects.

The Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act was filed last year and was advanced by unanimous consent. Essentially the bill would streamline application processes for researchers trying to study cannabis and its effects on the human brain and body. On top of that, it would clear physicians to discuss the risks and benefits of medicinal cannabis use with their patients — so finally doctors could recommend cannabis to their patients, legally.

Sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the bill represents another huge step for cannabis reform. And while the end of this congressional session is already creeping up in January, the fact that there are now two cannabis reform bills moving through the Senate and the House speaks volumes to the possibility that some form of federal legalization is imminent. Even if it comes in 2021.

“Our bill will remove excessive barriers that make it difficult for researchers to study the effectiveness and safety of marijuana, and hopefully, give patients more treatment options,” Brian Schatz told Marijuana Moment in an interview on Tuesday night. “The medical community agrees that we need more research to learn about marijuana’s potential health benefits, but our federal laws today are standing in the way.”

The catch? Just yesterday the federal government announced in a “pre-solicitation non-competitive” notice that they would be awarding a “sole source modification” contract to the University of Mississippi. Meaning that the only cannabis that will be available for researchers to test, will have to come from the federal government. It’s a monopoly they’ve controlled since the 1960’s and which they’re clearly still eager to hold onto.

Unfortunately (though, not surprisingly), the government apparently grows really shitty weed. Repeatedly, researchers have brought up the fact that the cannabis produced by the feds (and which they are required to use for testing/research) is of “insufficient quality” and is actually, chemically more akin to hemp than to the cannabis that is being sold in stores across the US. Raising questions about the accuracy or efficacy of the results.

Still, even if researchers are restricted to using shitty government cannabis for their studies, the prospect of making cannabis research easier to do would be huge. For decades cannabis research been stuck in an ugly catch 22: it can’t be researched because it is a schedule I drug with no ‘proven’ medicinal qualities, but it’s medicinal qualities couldn’t be proven until research could be done on it.

Now, hopefully, that’s about to change. Hopefully. There’s no knowing how fast any of this will actually move with the COVID relief bill taking center stage, but federal cannabis legalization has never felt closer. And should this bill pass, it could provide the necessary science and medicinal research to pave the way and expedite full federal legalization.

“[This bill] will empower the FDA to analyze CBD and medical marijuana products in a safe and responsible way so that the American public can decide whether to utilize them in the future based on sound scientific data,” Senator Grassley said. “Researching marijuana is widely supported by my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and it’s a smart step forward in addressing this current schedule I drug.”