Senator Rand Paul, a former Republican presidential candidate, has teamed with other senators to propose a new law to block the federal government from interfering with state medical marijuana laws.
The move shows that of all issues, medical marijuana seems to have drawn together politicians on both sides of the political aisle. Democrats have joined Paul in sponsoring the bill.
The reason for the proposal is not complicated. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made his dislike of legalized marijuana well known, and even scoffs at mounting evidence cannabis has significant medical benefits. Marijuana is listed as a Schedule 1 drug with no medical value and high potential for abuse. The Drug Enforcement Agency, which controls how drugs are classified, has refused to review the evidence of marijuana's medicial benefits.
President Donald Trump has remained silent on the matter since taking office in January, although his spokesman, Sean Spicer, has said people should expect more enforcement of federal law on marijuana.
While none of that is specific, it certainly doesn’t seem to bode well for those who would like to see marijuana removed from the list of Schedule I illegal drugs at the federal level, along with other drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
The CARERS Act
Known as the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect State Act (CARERS), the law takes a major step in U.S. policy. If passed, it would amend the Controlled Substance Act, the law that currently makes all marijuana illegal at the federal level.
The new act would allow for production, sale and use of medical marijuana in states where the law allows for it. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana.
The bill is sponsored by Paul and two Democrats, Corey Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. The act originally was introduced in 2015 and was reintroduced in June.
Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the law is needed because the federal government should not be “meddling” in state laws that have made medical marijuana legal.
Reintroducing the act is “the first of many steps we hope this Congress will take to end the federal prohibition of medical marijuana,” Murphy said in a prepared statement.
Passage of the bill could alleviate the concerns of thousands of investors and entrepreneurs in the marijuana industry, not to mention the scores of employees who now make a living because of legalized medical marijuana.
Debate over the bill should have a bit more urgency considering the recent actions of Sessions and Trump.
In a private letter obtained by the website Mass Roots, Sessions asked members of Congress to change the current prohibition that keeps the Justice Department from using federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana operations in states where it is legal.
The amendment, passed by Congress during the Obama Administration, essentially provides the protection many investors and business owners have counted on to operate legal marijuana operations without fear of federal reprisals.
But Sessions called the measure – the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment – “unwise’ because it restricts the Justice Department from taking action “particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.”
Additionally, Trump – in signing the fiscal appropriations bill into law in May – listed the amendment as one he might override, writing, “I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
Notably, Trump also didn’t ask for an extension of the amendment in his initial budget request to Congress.