On February 20th, two bills were introduced to the Federal House of representatives that aim to end the federal prohibition on cannabis and thus allow states to make their own laws on the substance. You can read about those bills here. Now, in what appears to be a similar political move, another bill will be introduced today into the Senate that would specifically legalize state medical marijuana programs at the federal level.
The new bill has bipartisan support, with Republican backed Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) joining ranks with Democratic Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). The three Senators released a statement on Monday, March 9th, 2015, stating their as-of-yet-unintroduced bill would “allow patients, doctors and businesses in states that have already passed medical-marijuana laws to participate in those programs without fear of federal prosecution.” The bill, which would reclassify cannabis as a Schedule II substance instead of a Schedule I substance, would ban the Drug Enforcement Administration from prosecuting law-following dispensaries, growers, doctors and patients in states with medical cannabis programs and would additionally, and finally, allow doctors who work with Veterans Affairs (the VA) to recommend cannabis to veterans.
Although some organizations are excited about the soon-to-be proposed bill, others are unsure of what likelihood it stands to pass, and with good reason. For years, the Senate has been relatively hostile to cannabis law reform; most, if not all, federal movement on the issue has come from the House of Representatives. Many of the skeptics point to the Republican control of the Senate as an indicator that the bill stands little chance of actually passing and being enacted. Those who are excited about the bill, however, are quick to point out that it is essentially the first real cannabis reform legislation to be introduced to the Senate and not the House.
Rand Paul, while technically a Republican, approaches legalization issues from a more libertarian standpoint, meaning his support of the bill is not necessarily an accurate representation of the attitudes toward cannabis within his official political party. Many Republican lawmakers are still quite fixated on appearing conservative by acting “tough on drugs” and “tough on crime,” but many of the more forward-thinking Republicans are noting the rapidly increasing levels of public support for both medical marijuana and legalized recreational cannabis. Some are encouraging their party members to approach this important issue from a state’s rights and small government standpoint, which could certainly help shift the stances of those who have thus far offered only intractable opposition to rational drug policy in the United States.
If passed, this proposed legislation would offer some legal protections to the numerous American citizens who live in daily fear of federal raids and prosecution, despite their careful compliance with state laws. Those who operate dispensaries, large-scale grow operations and cannabis product companies in states with active medical marijuana laws could breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that their vocations are finally legally protected at the federal level. The bill will be introduced at a press conference today at 12:30 EST, and where it goes from there, only time will tell.
Photo Credit: Tono Balaguer