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Senate Stunner: Orrin Hatch Passionately Defends Medical Marijuana

September 13, 2017
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
In a surprising move, US Sen. Orrin Hatch, a conservative Utah Republican and longtime cannabis prohibitionist, today introduced a bill to encourage more research into the effectiveness of medical cannabis.

Hatch didn’t just quietly introduce the bill, though. Rather, he took to the Senate floor and gave a passionate speech in defense of the use of medical marijuana, saying the plant “has the potential to help millions of Americans,” and “can truly change people’s lives for the better.”

“It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana,” he added. “Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana. All the while, the federal government strains to enforce regulations that sometimes do more harm than good. To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act.”

What the MEDS Bill Would Do

The Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act of 2017 (MEDS Act) debuts with four other co-sponsors, including Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Chris Coons (D-DE), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).

The MEDS bill would:

  • Encourage more research on the potential medical uses of marijuana by streamlining the research registration process, without imposing a scheduling determination on the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
  • Make marijuana more available for legitimate scientific and medical research and the commercial production of any FDA-approved drugs derived from marijuana.
  • Retain important checks to protect against diversion or abuse of the controlled marijuana substances.
  • Require the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to develop and publish recommendations for good manufacturing practices for growing and producing marijuana for research.
  • Require the attorney general to increase the national marijuana quota in a timely manner to meet the changing medical, scientific, and industrial needs for marijuana.
  • Codify the administration’s decision to terminate the Public Health Service and its review of proposals for medical research on marijuana.
  • Prevent the Department of Health and Human Services from instituting any other marijuana-specific protocol reviews, other than the voluntary review that a researcher can request from National Institutes of Health (NIH) in order to access the expedited DEA registration process.

A Movement Moment

Hatch’s statement on the Senate floor today represented one of the more remarkable moments in recent medical marijuana history. A longtime Republican icon, Hatch represents one of the nation’s most culturally conservative states. During his speech, he reiterated that he remains “strongly against the recreational use of marijuana,” and is “concerned about the cottage industry springing up” around the adult use of cannabis.

Nevertheless, he said, “we would be remiss if we threw out the baby with the bathwater.”

“It doesn’t take a sweeping overhaul of Obamacare” to substantially improve America’s healthcare, Hatch said, speaking of the medical potential of cannabis-based treatments. “Sometimes even small things can have big impacts on people’s lives.”


Utah Lawmakers Turn Timid on Medical Marijuana Plans

Why Hatch? Why Now?

What brought about the conservative senator’s changed outlook? He left a few clues in his floor speech. It sounds as though personal stories, the evidence of close friends, and America’s opioid crisis had a profound effect on his thinking around the issue.

Hatch included a reference to “my friend” who found him or herself taking 17 pills a day, including powerful opioids. That friend was able to find relief, and leave behind the pills, Hatch said, thanks to medical cannabis.

The opioid crisis clearly had an effect. “In Utah, and across the nation, opioid abuse continues to ravage hard-working families,” Hatch said. “Many are seeking non-narcotic alternatives,” including medical cannabis. “After deliberative thought,” he said, “I’ve determined that it’s an alternative worth pursuing.”

That statement is something close to stunning. Just a few months ago many political leaders dismissed out-of-hand the notion that cannabis could be a helpful tool in combatting America’s opioid crisis.


In White House’s Quest to End Opioid Crisis, Where’s Cannabis?

To be clear: Hatch’s bill doesn’t federally legalize medical marijuana. It ramps up scientific access to cannabis research. But for a senator like Hatch, that represents an enormous step forward on this issue. And his floor speech hints that he may be an advocate in the ongoing fight to protect the legal rights of medical patients in legal states.

The bipartisan nature of his MEDS Act, Hatch said, “represents what our two parties can accomplish when we work together in good faith.”


Nearly 3 in 4 Utah Voters Support Medical Marijuana, Survey Finds

Bruce Barcott's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

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  • Scott

    Guess he really put some thought into the innuendos in that statement: “high time”, “experimented”, “weeds”, “strains”, “blunt”, “roll” 🙂

    • Buddy Nuggs Jr

      Kudos Scott, politicians always find a way to verbally appeal to the crowd… Hopefully this time without appealing anything (systematically) that would help the process that gets us all treated when needed.

      • Scott

        Amen to that, my friend. Lost my Dad of cancer last year and wish he would have been willing to take some cannabis oil, but he was worried since it is illegal. Those who have suppressed this medicine should be locked up and thrown in jail.

    • Thomas Overbeck

      Has this been chronicled in video form? I’d love to see a clip of that.

  • FCN

    HE had the fortune to witness how MMJ can replace opiates-the worst drug type epidemic to ever hit this country.
    His buddies are always drinking liquid anesthetic-they don’t understand the opiate problem while they remain comfortably numb and well-cared for.

    • Louise

      I think the opiod epidemic is exagerated to fund the “war on drugs”. What happened to crack and meth? I bet alchohol and Tobacco kill more.

    • 360dunk

      ….or they DO understand the dangers of opioids, but are so deeply addicted that they can’t shake it.

      • FCN

        bet you they can’t poop either!

  • Buddy Nuggs Jr

    It’s past time for this… If you need it (medical) this is a step that will possibly redirect treatment of those that have side effects of the harmful treatment drugs manufactured in a laboratory then shipped to your local Pharmacy… It’s about time.

    • FCN

      yes as in my case- my cancer is in remission thanks to cannabis oils, NED- but the three chemos I took are nearly killing me. ALL FOR HIGH PROFITS.I need to put these people out of business.

  • Xuerusa

    Did he use all those puns on purpose? hahaha!

    • Thomas Overbeck

      I’m surprised he didn’t say this bill was a “joint effort” between the two parties.

    • 360dunk

      “To be blunt, we need to….”

      smoke one?

  • oldironguts

    Good To hear. But Here In Detroit There Is Bad News….All Dispensaries State Wide Are To Be Closed By December 15, This Year, 3 Months Closure Ordered By LARA. Where Is Norml ?

    • FCN

      what possible reason are they giving for doing that? Are they allowing people to “stock up” ?

  • Jan Soltys

    I don’t know…It sounds like a great deal of government intrusion into the process. What are they going to do with this knowledge, give it to Pharma so they can sell it to us at exorbitant prices?

    • 360dunk

      Government intrusion? Not if the study results in the government announcing all the medicinal benefits, re-classifying the plant, and giving the green light to the remaining states that still ban the weed.

  • lovingc

    The fly in the ointment is Trump’s AG. Sessions will not allow research. He is afraid of the truth.

    • Nerdelbaum Frink

      Sessions has no say if Congress is passing laws.

  • armourb1

    The only concern: Big Pharma in its attempt to reap benefits from cannabis through synthesizing active ingredients creating a harmful substance, much like us already taking place. The plant strains should be studied not altered to fit Pharma patents and bigger profits. Pharmaceutical companies create great harm sometimes and are dearth to fix it. Ethical natural research please.

    • FCN

      Don’t you remember when they tried to synthesize cannabinoids in France? One guy died of acute neurological failure and 5 others are permanently brain damaged. They cannot create the entourage effect that Mother Nature does.

      • Nerdelbaum Frink

        Synthesizing cannabinoids isn’t an issue if you’re allowed to synthesize the ones found in cannabis. A patent on synthesizing CBD could be a huge profit potential for any pharmaceutical company, and something like CBD can be incredibly useful on its own as such. The issue is that full agonist cannabinoids are too powerful, and we don’t really have enough knowledge to know what a new cannabinoid will do, hence the issues you bring up. Something like marinol, while not as well tolerated since THC is rather intense, is perfectly fine as a synthesized cannabinoid. My only real fear is that they’ll continue to keep the plant illegal and only allow cannabinoids as pharmaceuticals. Having both the natural flower and the pure substance is the ideal scenario.

  • Bruce Stewart

    I have liver problems and the docs won’t give me anything for my arthritis pain I have all over so I went to cannabis. I told my doc he said as long as it helps but reminded me that it was illegal it helps with the pain. I also have a buddy that takes care of his Alzheimer’s dad one day he tried it with his dad and he dressed himself held a conversation it was like he was back in the beginning stages.

  • swagmeister


  • Lonny Mcdonald

    Big pharmacutical and crooked politicians. Just legalize and leave alone

  • lois eisenberg

    “Senate Stunner: Orrin Hatch Passionately Defends Medical Marijuana”
    Bravo to you Senator Hatch ***

  • 360dunk

    To honor this evolving Senator, I’m going to drop an edible down my hatch.

  • 143jeanne

    Just make sure it is high quality pot for studies..not stems and leaf shake.

  • Jeff Staker

    I had one of the best productive meetings yet while wrapping my week here in our Capital with a couple of bright staffers in Senator Orrin Hatch’s office 9/15. Though there is a lot of joking going around from his marijuana pun speech… it is a great way to gain the public’s attention and then to refocus it on the serious side of the issue as a life saving medicine. HVMC and others are making ourselves available for his service as he moves in this position direction.