Justice

BREAKING: Senators From Both Parties Speak out for Medical Marijuana

March 10th 2015

By:
Alex Mierjeski

Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced what observers called an historic first piece of legislation Tuesday that seeks to repeal the federal ban on medical marijuana.

The sweeping bipartisan bill, known as the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, would introduce many core reforms advocates have been seeking for years. Among them, CARERS would downgrade marijuana’s DEA classification from a Schedule 1 to Schedule 2, open doors for further research, ease banking negotiations with industry clients, and allow Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend the drug in states where medical marijuana is legal.

“This is a significant step forward when it comes to reforming marijuana laws at the federal level,” Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. The bill will mark the first time the Senate has ever considered allowing medical marijuana, according to the group.

The introduction of the bill marked a lunge in a series of recent strides aimed at rethinking state and, especially, federal policy on medical marijuana. In December, Congress approved a landmark amendment attempting to prohibit the Justice Department from spending any money going after states for carrying out their own medical marijuana laws––a provision some say CARERS will bolster.

Additionally, the bill would remove CBD, a non-psychoactive compound some parents use to treat their children’s epilepsy, from the moniker of marijuana, and ease inter-state transport restrictions for medical access.

“It’s long past time to end the federal ban,” said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance in a statement.

Steph Sherer, the executive director of Americans for Safe Access, spoke with ATTN last year about medical cannabis, explaining why many people need it: "[they] find they are intolerant of the side-effects of prescription drugs that treat their ailments," she said. "Research has shown that in states with medical marijuana programs there has been a reduction in suicide rates and overdose deaths from opiates. Because it is simultaneously a pain killer, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective agent, a single dose of marijuana can replace a handful of pharmaceuticals."

A recent study from JAMA Internal Medicine also found "there was about a 25% lower rate of prescription painkiller overdose deaths on average after implementation of a medical marijuana law" from 1999 to 2010.

“This comprehensive proposal would effectively end the war on medical marijuana and let states compassionately provide care for seriously ill people without the federal government standing in the way. The fact that two young Democrats with likely long political futures have teamed up with a probable 2016 Republican presidential candidate shows how medical marijuana is a nonpartisan, noncontroversial issue that draws support from across the spectrum. With polls showing an overwhelming majority of American voters backing marijuana reform, you’d think taking up this proposal would be a no-brainer for legislative leaders who want to show that Congress can still get things done," Tom Angell, founder and chairman of the Marijuana Majority told ATTN. 

At a press conference in the Senate Tuesday, advocates and sponsors of the bill spoke out against the disconnect between the absent federal regulation of medical marijuana, and the growing body of research touting its many successes in patients suffering from a variety of ailments. "This bill seeks to right decades of wrong and end unnecessary marijuana laws," Sen. Cory Booker said. "Today we join together to say enough is enough," he added, "our federal government has long overstepped the boundaries of common sense, fiscal prudence, and compassion with its marijuana laws. These laws must change."

"A little over 20 states have medical marijuana, and yet there are still federal rules that make it difficult," Sen. Rand Paul said. "We don't want doctors to be punished for simply trying to help people...I've done a lot of effort across the aisle with Sen. Booker and Se. Gillibrand, and I think this is an example of how Washington works," he added. 

The speakers included a New York mother whose child uses CDB oils to combat a rare form of epilepsy, 2 patients suffering from MS who have found success using the drug, a veteran, and a marijuana business owner who discussed the roadblocks to normal financial operations. "Across the country, state lawmakers have already recognized what medical research is showing us: that cannabis can treat a variety of illnesses from MS, to cancer, to epilepsy, to seizures...these laws ignore the health benefits of medical marijuana. This is clearly a case of ideology getting in the way of scientific progress," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said. 

23 states plus the District of Columbia already allow medical marijuana use, and four states––Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Alaska (and D.C.)––allow recreational use. It is currently illegal––medically and recreationally––by federal standards.