If approved, the bill would represent a major shift in congressional action on marijuana

Niraj Chokshi, Washington Post

A historic Senate medical marijuana bill unveiled Tuesday would dramatically reshape the landscape for the plant, nearly 80 years after it was effectively criminalized.

The bill, introduced by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., would end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana and eliminate the ambiguity surrounding related state laws. It would untie the hands of veterans’ doctors when it comes to recommending the drug and those of bankers when it comes to providing business services to the industry. It would also facilitate very limited interstate trade, expand research and shift marijuana out of the most severe category in the federal government’s drug classification.

“Today, we join together to say enough is enough. Our federal government has long overstepped the boundaries of common sense,” Booker said at a news conference, flanked by advocates and patients, including a young girl, Morgan Hintz, who suffered a mild seizure as the senators presented their bill, her mother said. Kate Hintz, a New Yorker, advocates for expanded access to medical marijuana for those, such as her daughter, who suffer from epilepsy and associated seizures.

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 of Texas and former Florida Gov. 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.”

Advocates see the bill as laying the groundwork for a public, high-level discussion about legalizing the drug, at least for medical use, for which public support has risen in recent years.

In addition to ending the federal prohibition on medical pot, the bill — the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act — also would recognize marijuana’s medical benefits by switching its classification from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 under the federal government’s five-category system of drug classification.

The bill would expand research opportunities for the drug and let doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs recommend the drug to veterans. It would allow bankers to provide to the marijuana industry the same services they provide to other businesses.

The bill would also expand access to the drug to patients in states that have approved limited medical marijuana laws. While medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, a dozen other states have approved use only of strains of the plant with high levels of cannabidiol, which does not produce the high associated with the drug and is used in treating epileptic seizures. The bill would remove specific strains of CBD oil from the federal definition of marijuana, thereby expanding access for patients.

Several advocacy organizations involved with passing state marijuana laws also were involved in discussions surrounding the crafting of the bill, including the Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project and Americans for Safe Access.