Senators Introduce Historic Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana - CURRENT NEWS ABOUT MARIJUANA

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A bipartisan group of three senators will introduce a historic bill Tuesday that could end the federal ban on medical marijuana, a substance that 23 states have now legalized.

The plan sponsored by Republican Sen. Rand Paul and Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand 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,” according to a statement the three senators released Monday.

While reform advocates like the Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project say the legislation “has legs,” others disagree. Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), has been closely following Congress’ movement on marijuana for the past 25 years. He says the bill is probably “D.O.A.” because some Republicans remain loath to touch such stuff.

But that doesn’t make the bill insignificant. It’s a sign that the winds legalization advocates like St. Pierre have been fighting against for decades are now at their back. He calls the bill “historic,” noting that while the House has attempted marijuana reform for years, the Senate has largely been silent on the issue.

“Marijuana prohibition is not going to end without a public conversation,” St. Pierre says. “This bill will be [introduced] and then these discussions will be happening.”

While only a slim majority of Americans favor the legalization of recreational marijuana, medical marijuana is a more decided issue. In conservative states like Kentucky, the approval ratings are still at 52%, while they climb as high as 81% in purple states like Iowa. In February, the leader of the Republican majority in West Virginia’s state Senate introduced a bill to allow residents to grow and use medical marijuana if it’s recommended by a doctor. The measure was co-sponsored the the senate’s Democratic minority leader.

Paul, as St. Pierre says, is a “dyed-in-the-wool libertarian.” His tack on medical marijuana—saying it’s simply something that states should decide whether to allow—shows how it’s possible for this to be a social issue on which Republicans can evolve and use as a carrot for younger voters. The Marijuana Policy Project’s Riffle says that ending the federal ban would get the government out of doctor-patient relations and save taxpayer money on medical dispensary raids. “Talking about reducing the role of government interference in our personal lives and enhancing personal freedom and autonomy, reducing government spending—those are all conservative talking points,” he says.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, where it is a ritual for Republican presidential hopefuls to court the base, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz endorsed a federalist approach to Colorado’s marijuana legalization, saying it was a “great embodiment” of states acting as “laboratories of democracy.”

“If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative,” he said. “I don’t agree with it, but that’s their rights.” Aaron Houston, a political strategist with Weedmaps who has been trying to get the Senate to take up marijuana reform for years, calls Cruz’s position “remarkable” and the bill “hugely significant.”

The senators pushing this measure have precedents beyond state-level actions to cite. The spending bill that President Obama signed in December contained an amendment that prohibited the Department of Justice from using funds to go after state-level medical marijuana programs. That new law gave many in the medical marijuana world some peace of mind, as they continue to operate in a sphere where their actions are legal in their state and illegal in their country. Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, an outspoken proponent of marijuana reform, heralded it as “the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana.”

California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. The years in the interim, Riffle says, were like a “wait-and-see phase” where the sticky discrepancy between state and federal law was largely ignored. Regardless of whether the bill goes anywhere, he believes the introduction it is a signal that the wait-and-see phase is over. “This is a legitimate, mainstream topic of debate,” Riffle says. “We’re ready to see Congress actually do something about it.”

 

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