The issue of federal marijuana reform took another step forward this week with the introduction of a proposal in the House of Representatives that aims to overturn Uncle Sam’s opinions on cannabis for medicinal purposes.
On Tuesday, Representatives Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Don Young of Alaska submitted the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act, which is a companion bill to a proposal submitted to Congress several weeks ago by Senators Cory Booker, Rand Paul and Kristen Gillibrand. The combined efforts of these legislative offerings serve as a blueprint to overhaul the policies of the federal government by unshackling the cannabis plant and giving it the opportunity to prove itself as viable and effective medicine.
Although 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized and established medical marijuana programs, the herb remains a dangerous Schedule I drug in the eyes of federal law, a conflict of interest that has created a lump in the throat of the medical marijuana community ever since California rolled the first stone down Capitol Hill nearly 20 years ago.
However, the CARERS Act would remedy this debacle between state and federal law to a certain extent. In addition to allowing states that have legalized medical marijuana to carry on with their operation without risking interference from the Drug Enforcement Administration, it would also downgrade marijuana’s current Schedule I classification to a Schedule II, which would allow it to be prescribed and researched more freely without violating any international drug treaties.
“The science has been in for a long time, and keeping marijuana on Schedule I—with heroin and LSD—is ludicrous,” Cohen said in a statement. “I am pleased to join with Congressman Don Young in introducing this important bill to bring the federal government in line with the science and the American people, respect states’ rights, remove the threat of federal prosecution in states with medical marijuana and help our citizens access the treatments they need.”
One of the most crucial aspects of the CARERS Act is that it would finally allow veterans to gain access to medical marijuana by permitting physicians working at the Department of Veterans Affairs to correlate treatment plans to include the participation in statewide programs. Marijuana has proven to be very effective in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, one of the most common psychological conditions suffered by soldiers returning home from combat.
” VA Doctors should not be muzzled,” Cohen told CBS News. “The idea that veterans who go to war and see life squashed out can’t talk to doctors about marijuana is absurd. It’s crazy.”
Another restriction that would be eliminated with the passing of this legislation is the use and possession of cannabidiol or CBD, which is a non-intoxicating compound in marijuana that has shown impressive results in the treatment of seizure disorders. The CARERS Act would remove cannabinoid from the Controlled Substances Act and allow states to import the medicine without any legal ramification.
While some policy experts believe this proposal for federal pot reform is a long shot, President Obama suggested in a recent interview that the rescheduling of cannabis was likely on the horizon.
“At a certain point, if enough states end up decriminalizing, then Congress may reschedule marijuana,” he said.
As it stands, the Department of Justice is technically prohibited from interfering with state medical marijuana laws due to a federal spending bill passed at the end of 2014. Yet, the authority of this legislation comes to an end later in the year, which could put cannabis communities at risk, once again, for a vicious shakedown. The passing of the CARERS Act, however, would ultimately eliminate any future risk of retaliation by federal law enforcement.
But does the bill stand any chance of making it off Capitol Hill alive?
Since the congressional version was submitted earlier this month, the bill has received an outpouring of support. Unfortunately, lawmakers will face an uphill battle trying to convince House Speaker John Boehner to schedule a vote. Yet, while the odds may be stacked against the cause, everyone involved agrees that, eventually, the tides in both chambers will turn and force the passage of this legislation.
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