Senators Unveil Bill To Legalize Federal Medical Marijuana

Jonah Bennett | Contributor

Republican Sen. Rand Paul joined Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand Tuesday to propose legislation to legalize medical marijuana on the federal level.

The bill, termed the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act, would move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, allow access for veterans and put a final stop to federal raids on dispensaries, among other things.

This is the first time a medical marijuana bill has been introduced in the Senate, whereas the House has seen 15 pieces of legislation on marijuana reform in the last session of Congress, according to Marijuana.com.

The move from Schedule I to Schedule II would mean federal regulatory recognition that marijuana has medicinal value, but also high abuse potential.

“This is an absolutely ground-breaking moment,” Leslie Bocskor, managing partner of Electrum Partners, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Whether it passes or not, the fact that it exists is an important step. In proposing to reschedule marijuana, the senators are also acknowledging the pre-existence of the marijuana manufacturing industry by including a provision on financial services and enforcement.”

For veterans, it would allow physicians at the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana in states where it is already legal.

“Veterans are underserved, and they often have significant PTSD challenges to deal with,” Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech, an indoor cultivation and agricultural research company, told TheDCNF. “Marijuana helps alleviate the symptoms of those trying to re-integrate after coming home from war. That’s an absolute positive from the bill’s standpoint.”

While rescheduling would spur development in virtually all areas of the cannabis sector, Peterson notes that most in the industry would have preferred more extensive legalization.

“Ultimately, we’d like to see marijuana dropped from scheduling completely and for recreational marijuana to be put in the hands of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, to be regulated like alcohol,” Peterson said. “Medical marijuana should be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”

The District of Columbia, along with 23 other states, has some form of legal medical marijuana available to those with certain medical conditions when given a doctor’s recommendation. But companies in the medical marijuana space have faced considerable challenges when trying to interface with federally regulated services, such as the financial industry, where banks have been hesitant to put themselves at risk of potential backlash.

“This legislation is especially important for companies who previously have been unable to obtain financial services,” Bocskor told TheDCNF. “They can’t get credit cards cleared, insurance is difficult, banking is difficult—it’s all been terribly difficult, but still, almost every week I’m contacted by someone that’s interested in financial services for the cannabis industry.”

Peterson agreed, emphasizing the fact that blocking financial services slows innovation and places both business owners and customers in a precarious safety position.

“Startups in this area have all the same costs as in any other industry: raising capital, hiring a workforce, dealing with complex legislation which varies from state to state, and competition,” Peterson said. “Take all of those startup procedures and layer on top the problem of limited access to financial services. That costs jobs and tax revenue. There’s also a safety concern. Storing cash onsite is putting a target on the backs of employees and business owners. Currently, lots of dispensaries use banks, but they’ll do it under the guise of a different company, or they’ll only deposit a small percentage of revenue and hold the rest in cash.”

On the industry side, the bill would strike down federal penalties for the production, distribution and possession of medical marijuana within the bounds of state law. This means that federal enforcement would be prohibited from halting medical marijuana operations. This is a notable feature of the bill. The Drug Enforcement Administration has had a long history of raiding dispensaries which count as legal under state law but remain illegal under federal law.

Although the Department of Justice no longer counts marijuana enforcement as a major priority, it still technically possesses formal authority.

For researchers, the bill represents a leap forward, as it would force the DEA to issue additional permits for medical marijuana research, thereby removing the monopoly held by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“For one, moving marijuana from Schedule I to II allows for reform of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which will broaden the kind of research that can be done in the U.S,” David Goldstein, co-founder and managing partner at Potbotics, a company interested in quantifying brain wave responses to cannabis, told TheDCNF. “In the past, we’ve had to look outside the U.S. for places providing a more open research environment, and previously, you weren’t able to do research on a Schedule I drug and have it be recognized by the FDA as valid.”

“The U.S. government even has a patent on medicinal cannabis, listed as #6630507, which was obtained in 2003,” Goldstein told TheDCNF. “The newly proposed legislation, if passed, would place the government in less of a contradictory frame of mind, and it would certainly reduce stigma, making it easier to obtain research funding. I have doctors on my medical advisory who don’t want to be publicly listed for that reason. Decreased stigma would encourage more talent to come in and offer professional expertise. It opens the floodgates for the institutional backing of new research.”

However, the bill has only been introduced, not passed, although it is a notable political moment.

“This is still a battle that needs to be fought,” Bocskor added. “We need to show that the cannabis industry is an exemplary industry by keeping the drug out of the hands of children and keeping the money out of the hands of criminal cartels, as well as using it to generate jobs and tax revenue, but this is an important moment.”

“There’s been more progress in the last 12 months than in the last five years,” Peterson confirmed.

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