"Very little research is going on in this country mainly because of the obstruction of research by the federal government," Hermes said. "If we want to get ahead of the curve or learn more about this therapeutic substance and bring it to as many people in the U.S. who can benefit from it, we need to break down the barriers to research."
In 2011, ASA produced a report detailing what it calls arbitrary obstruction of research by government officials.
ASA and other drug reform advocates are urging the U.S. government to reclassify marijuana – currently a schedule one substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 – but efforts so far have been unsuccessful. On Oct. 7 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to entertain an appeal from ASA that sought to force reclassification.
According to Liu, who says he does not smoke marijuana, European countries are the primary drivers of cannabis research. He believes business interests may have historically played a role in deterring research into marijuana-derived substances.
"The actual countries that are keen to drive cannabis as an anti-cancer treatment are places like Spain and Italy, as well as the U.K.," he said. "The reason why we believe it to be the case is because the way that these drugs work is very similar to how conventional drugs work."