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Bipartisan Medical Marijuana Bill Would End Federal Ban

35 States have some kind of medical marijuana. Isn’t it about time the federal government got with the program?

Photo by Laurie Avocado via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, United States Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Rand Paul presented a new bill that would dramatically shift the federal government’s long-time position on medical marijuana. The law would effectively end the nominal national ban on the drug, opening up avenues for states to pursue medical programs without interference from Washington.

Currently, a lot of ambiguity exists around the federal government’s official ban on medical weed, and how it affects states’ individual medical marijuana programs. Doctors can prescribe the drug in its natural form in 23 states and Washington D.C., but serious legal conflicts make it a thorny issue for medical professionals, as well as banks that deal with pot-related businesses. (Twelve other states have partial laws, or only allow use of certain extracts or synthetic forms of marijuana.) Booker, Gillibrand, and Paul’s proposal, called the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act (CARERS), would end these conflicts, allowing those who use or prescribe medical marijuana to do so without worrying about running afoul of federal law.

“Today, we join together to say enough is enough. Our federal government has long overstepped the boundaries of common sense,” said Booker at a press conference on Tuesday.

For reasons that have baffled both the public and physicians for years, marijuana is still currently a Schedule I drug, a designation reserved for chemicals considered to be of no societal or medical value whatsoever, like heroin. According to a New York Times Op-Ed this morning,

The Schedule I classification made no sense because there is a medical consensus that patients with AIDS, cancer, epilepsy and serious degenerative conditions can benefit from marijuana. And millions of patients have used marijuana to relieve pain, nausea, appetite loss, insomnia and seizures associated with various illnesses.

The proposed law would drop weed to a Schedule II status, reserved for those drugs with medical value, but a “high potential for abuse.”

Photo by shay sowden via Flickr

Notably, the bill is a bipartisan effort—Gillibrand and Booker are Democrats from New York and New Jersey, respectively, while Paul is a Kentucky Republican. And while that fact doesn’t guarantee the bill’s success, it can surely be taken as a sign of the growing national consensus on medical marijuana reform. The Washington Post reports:

While the bill’s fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is unclear, it may appeal to a strain of conservative thinking that favors states’ rights. Already, three potential Republican presidential candidates — Paul, Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and former Florida governor Jeb Bush — have said that they support states’ rights to legalize the drug, even if they do not personally support such policies.

“We’re going to approach all our colleagues,” Gillibrand said. “This is the first step of a long process of advocacy.”

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