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Legal pot's biggest supporter and its strongest critic have joined forces on medical marijuana

Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) sit on opposing ends of the political spectrum when it comes to marijuana policy.

Blumenauer, dubbed Congress’s "top legal pot advocate" by Rolling Stone, has introduced or co-sponsored more than 20 pieces of legislation aimed at loosening federal marijuana restrictions. Harris, on the other hand, is known for doing the exact opposite. In 2014, he led an unsuccessful effort to stymie Washington, DC’s path to legalization with a legislative rider that prohibited the district from spending either federal money or its own tax revenue on the initiative.

But now, despite their differences, the two men are teaming up for a bill to advance medical marijuana research.

They aren’t alone. The two are just half of the cohort co-sponsoring the Medical Marijuana Act of 2016, a bipartisan bill that, if enacted, would make it easier for researchers to study pot’s potential medical usages.

An abundance of roadblocks have hindered medical marijuana research in the US

As Vox’s German Lopez has previously reported, marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 controlled substance makes studying it a pretty tricky endeavor. For one, the University of Mississippi currently operates the only facility in the country authorized to sell the drug to all researchers. This setup gives the federal government an effective monopoly in the field, and creates an ever-present bottleneck of requests that caused one team to wait seven years to obtain to federal supplies.

In addition to dealing with the government-enforced lack of supply, marijuana scientists often have to get approval from three different federal agencies to conduct their studies in the first place.

Though Harris and Blumenauer’s bill would not work to change marijuana’s federal classification, from a researcher’s perspective it carries many of the same operative effects of a rescheduling. If passed, it would force the federal government to greenlight additional research growers and mandate shorter windows of review for research requests.

Though Harris stands behind it, the bill does pose an internal juxtaposition for him, as he's spent much of his career fighting against legalization. "It’s a Catch-22," Harris said in a statement published by the Washington Post on Monday. "I think medical marijuana should be more strictly controlled than it is now, [but] as a physician I would never want to deny a medicine to a patient that has been shown, with scientific rigor, to help them."

Both the House bill and a similar version in the Senate are expected to be introduced later this week.

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