U.S.: House Version of Groundbreaking Federal Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced

SteveCohenUSRepTN

Bill Follows Historic Introduction of the CARERS Act by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

Support for Letting States Set Their Own Marijuana Policies Without Federal Interference Growing Rapidly in Congress

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) have introduced the House companion to a groundbreaking bill legalizing marijuana for medical use that was introduced in the Senate two weeks ago by Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York). Senators Dean Heller (R-Nevada) and Barbara Boxer (D-California) co-sponsored the bill soon after.

“Reforming our nation’s failed drug policies is one of the few issues Democrats and Republicans can agree on,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “The tide is quickly turning against marijuana prohibition and the war on drugs in general.”

“Police have as much business telling patients whether they should use medical marijuana as they do performing eye surgery -- and with a similar rate of success,” said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a criminal justice group opposed to the Drug War. “When you treat a health problem like a matter for law enforcement, you only endanger the patient, who has no assurance of the quality or purity of what he's consuming and must enter the illegal market to obtain it, and undermine respect for and effectiveness of law enforcement in our society.”

“No one should ever have to be considered a criminal to get medicine they need,” said Major Franklin. “There are many patients who need medicine who are foregoing their preferred treatment for fear of arrest. This is a public health problem that affects people from across the political spectrum. Prioritizing proper health care for the sick and disabled is not a partisan issue; it’s a question of basic human rights.”

The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act is the most comprehensive medical marijuana bill ever introduced in Congress. The CARERS Act will do the following:

• Allow states to legalize marijuana for medical use without federal interference
• Permit interstate commerce in cannabidiol (CBD) oils
• Reschedule marijuana to Schedule II
• Allow banks to provide checking accounts and other financial services to marijuana dispensaries
• Allow Veterans Administration physicians to recommend medical marijuana to veterans
• Eliminate barriers to medical marijuana research.

The CARERS Act would foremost allow states to decide their own regulatory policies. It would also reschedule marijuana from the federal scheduling category I to II, which unlike Schedule I, recognizes medical efficacy and allows more extensive research for drugs within that schedule, though it is still very restrictive. If passed, the bill would also permit interstate commerce of CBD (cannabidiol) products. CBD is a non-psychoactive seizure suppressant found in marijuana that has shown to be effective in reducing the severity and intensity of seizures, particularly in pediatric epileptic patients.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have laws that legalize and regulate marijuana for medicinal purposes. Twelve states have laws on the books or are about to be signed into law by their governors regulating cannabidiol (CBD) oils, a non-psychotropic component of medical marijuana which some parents are utilizing to treat their children’s seizures. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for non-medical use.

Last year, the Republican-controlled House passed an amendment to a spending bill prohibiting the Department of Justice from undermining state medical marijuana laws. This amendment was backed by Sens. Rand Paul and Cory Booker and made it into the final “cromnibus” bill that was signed by President Obama in December. Unfortunately the amendment expires at the end of this fiscal year, making legislation like the CARERS Act essential.

The House also passed three other amendments last year letting states set their own marijuana policies, but those amendments never made it into law. Polls show roughly three-quarters of Americans support legalizing marijuana for medical use.

A little more than half of voters support legalizing marijuana for non-medical use, in the same way alcohol is legal, taxed, and regulated.

Photo of Rep. Steve Cohen: Forward Progressives