Republicans and Democrats in Congress are introducing medical marijuana legislation Thursday protecting states from federal interference in the wake of a request to roll back protections from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Members of the House of Representatives and Senate are backing a comprehensive marijuana package in an effort to protect state medical legalization laws from a potential federal crackdown. The bill gives the Department of Veteran Affairs the freedom to recommend medical marijuana to patients and removes cannabidiol (CBD), used to treat chronic pain and severe epilepsy, from the Controlled Substances Act.
Republican Sens. Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Lisa Murkowski join Democratic Sens. Al Franken, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand as initial sponsors of the legislation, which they will announce in a press conference Thursday. A version of the legislation in the House is also attracting bipartisan support.
“A majority of states now have comprehensive medical marijuana laws on the books, and a supermajority of Americans support letting patients access cannabis without fear of arrest,” Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It’s well past time for Congress to modernize federal law so that people with cancer, multiple sclerosis and PTSD don’t have to worry about Jeff Sessions sending in the DEA to arrest them or their suppliers. The diverse group of lawmakers behind this new legislation shows that medical cannabis is an issue of compassion, not partisan politics.”
The legislation will also ease restrictions on the research community attempting to study the medical applications of marijuana. Scientists in the U.S. attempting to study the effects of marijuana on various ailments lament the continued roadblocks to federally-funded cannabis research. The designation of marijuana as a Schedule I substance alongside deadly narcotics means that the U.S. government does not recognize any medicinal benefit to marijuana.
The bipartisan effort comes in the wake of a letter from Sessions to Congress leaked Tuesday petitioning lawmakers to scale back legal protections for medical marijuana.
In the letter sent to Congress in May, Sessions asks they dismantle rules that bar the Department of Justice (DOJ) from getting involved in medical marijuana issues at the state level. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which passed in 2014, prevents the DOJ from using federal funds to prosecute individuals in states with medical legalization.
Sessions argues that these protections undermine the DOJ’s ability to combat the illegal drug trade.
Sessions cites the current drug epidemic involving opioids as reason to remove the restrictions placed on the Justice Department. Federal officials estimate that drug overdoses killed more than 60,000 Americans in 2016. Recent research, however, suggests that legal marijuana is helping reduce abuse rates of prescription drugs.
A study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence in March found that in states with legal weed, hospital visits for complications from prescription painkillers are dropping. The hospitalization rate for opioid abuse and dependence in states with medical marijuana are roughly 23 percent lower than states without legal access.
Emergency room visits for opioid overdoses are on average 13 percent lower than states without medical marijuana programs.
Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and Washington, D.C., where it is also legal for recreational use. Nearly 20 percent of Americans now have access to legal pot.
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