Senate Medical Marijuana Bill Has Big Name Support — But Not From Colorado

At a press conference today, three prominent U.S. Senators — Kentucky Republican (and likely GOP presidential hopeful) Rand Paul and two Democrats, New Jersey's Cory Booker and New York's Kirsten Gillibrand — unveiled a sweeping medical marijuana bill.

The legislation would firmly establish state's rights when it comes to cannabis policy, knock pot down a notch in the Drug Enforcement Agency’s classification system, protect financial institutions that want to work with MMJ businesses but fear running afoul of banking laws, promote research and allow physicians treating veterans to consider recommending marijuana.

It's a broad and ambitious proposal no doubt inspired in part by what's perceived by many (thought not all) as Colorado's successful marijuana experiment.

However, neither of Colorado's U.S. senators is on board.

Paul and Booker have teamed up on this subject in the past. In 2014, as we've reported, the U.S. House voted to defund DEA marijuana raids in Colorado and other places where cannabis had been legalized, and Paul and Booker backed an amendment to do likewise in the Senate. But legislative complications wound up sabotaging the measure.

Now, this pair, joined by Gillibrand, are taking a bolder step.

Below, we've included the complete document, known formally as the "Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act of 2015’’ or the ‘‘CARERS Act of 2015." But here are some excerpts, which use the archaic "marihuana" spelling to correspond with the vocabulary of current statutes.

The following passage appears in a section pertaining to federalism in drug policy:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the provisions of this title relating to marihuana shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State law relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, laboratory testing, or delivery of medical marihuana..
Simply put, this line would give states primacy over the federal government when it comes to marijuana.

Next, the bill would change marijuana from a Schedule I substance under DEA rules — meaning on par with heroin and other drugs not considered to have any medical use — to Schedule II, alongside cocaine, Oxycontin and so on.

CBD, a cannabis compound that has medical effects but does not make people feel stoned, is also protected under a category labeled "Cannabidol Determination." It reads in part:
If a person grows or processes Cannabis sativa L. for purposes of making cannabidiol in accordance with State law, the Cannabis sativa L. shall be deemed to meet the concentration limitation under section 102(57), unless the Attorney General determines that the State law is not reasonably calculated to comply with section 102(57)."
Some of the biggest changes would apply to banking. Financial institutions would be able to take as clients any ‘‘marijuana-related legitimate business," defined as a manufacturer, producer, or any person that:
(A) participates in any business or organized activity that involves handling marijuana or marijuana products, including selling, transporting, displaying, dispensing, or distributing marijuana or marijuana products; and

(B) engages in such activity pursuant to a law established by a State or a unite of local government.
In addition, the bill continues, "a depository institution that provides financial services to a mariuana-related legitimate business shall not be subject to a criminal penalty under any Federal law solely for providing those services or for further investing any income derived from such services."

Another interesting section pertains to research. On the topic of licenses, the legislation states:
Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Attorney General, acting through the Drug Enforcement Administration, shall issue not less than 3 licenses under section 303 of the Controlled Substances Act (2125 U.S.C. 823) to manufacture marijuana and marijuana-derivatives for research approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Finally, there's a "provision by Department of Veterans Affairs health care providers of recommendations and opinions regarding veteran participation in state marijuana programs."

Taken as a whole, the CAREERS Act addresses many of the issues of interest to pro-cannabis activists like the Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell, who offered Westword the following statement: "This comprehensive proposal would effectively end the war on medical marijuana and let states compassionately provide care for seriously ill people without the federal government standing in the way.

"The fact that two young Democrats with likely long political futures have teamed up with a probable 2016 Republican presidential candidate shows how medical marijuana is a nonpartisan, noncontroversial issue that draws support from across the spectrum," Angell adds. "With polls showing an overwhelming majority of American voters backing marijuana reform, you’d think taking up this proposal would be a no-brainer for legislative leaders who want to show that Congress can still get things done." 

At this point, however, neither of Colorado's senators has joined the effort — which isn't really a surprise. In advance of the vote on Amendment 64, the measure that legalized limited marijuana sales in Colorado, Democrat Michael Bennet authorized the No on 64 campaign to release the following statement: "A constitutional amendment to make this type of change leaves cause for concern. Looking at this as a parent, it goes too far."

As for Republican Cory Gardner, he voted against the U.S. House measure that would have defunded DEA medical-marijuana raids — and while he recently signed on to back a bill to legalize hemp production, he has yet to embrace hemp's less sober sister.

Here's the CAREERS Act of 2015.

Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act of 2015

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts