It is no secret that most of the progress made regarding both medical and recreational marijuana legalization across the nation has been made at the state level. While federal authorities and Congress block research efforts and the Department of Justice (DOJ) continues to bust dispensaries and families in California, Colorado, and Washington, states continue to push forward with progressive legislation.
The latest example of state efforts to decrease federal interference with state laws or policies has come from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which this week approved a resolution asking Congress that federal laws “be amended to explicitly allow states to set their own marijuana and hemp policies without federal interference.”
The preamble of the resolution explicitly refers to both hemp and marijuana and proclaims that the federal government has little power over states in terms of dictating whether and how they legalize all varieties of the plant — for any purpose.
“The federal government cannot force a state to criminalize cultivating, possessing, or distributing marijuana or hemp — whether for medical, recreational, industrial, or other uses — because doing so would constitute unconstitutional commandeering.”
The DOJ’s reliance on the Controlled Substances Act and the Schedule I status of cannabis — which legally defines the herb as totally lacking in medical benefit — has prevented cannabis-related businesses from activities such as utilizing banking services (regulated at the federal level) and claiming standardized business expenses on tax return filings.
Other legislative efforts, such as the CARERS Act sponsored by senators Cory Booker (New Jersey) and Rand Paul (Kentucky), are currently alive in Congress and would reclassify cannabis as Schedule II, allowing robust research and less federal interference. The CARERS Act would also allow cannabis businesses to utilize banking services, permit Veteran’s Administration physicians to recommend cannabis, and even legalize interstate commerce in CBD oil (which contains no THC and, thus, delivers no psychoactive effects to users, making it safe for children).
The NCSL resolution recognizes that states will disagree on the best way to legalize and regulate production and distribution of hemp, medical marijuana, and recreational cannabis. The resolution:
“…recognizes that its members have differing views on how to treat marijuana and hemp in their states and believes that states and localities should be able to set whatever marijuana and hemp policies work best to improve the public safety, health, and economic development of their communities.”
Tom Angell, Chairman of the Marijuana Majority, said of the resolution, “Overarching federal prohibition laws still stand in the way of full and effective implementation. These state lawmakers are demanding that the federal government stop impeding their ability to set and carry out marijuana laws that work best for their own communities.”
Two Colorado senators are pushing federal legislation that would allow adults and children suffering from epilepsy and seizure disorders, anywhere in the United States, to consume special strains of medical cannabis, including CBD-rich extracts.
The Therapeutic Hemp Medical Access Act, supported by the National Epilepsy Foundation, is sponsored by Republican Senator Cory Gardner and Democrat Michael Bennet, both of Colorado — in addition to Republicans Orrin Hatch of Utah and Johnny Isakson of Georgia.
At the official unveiling of the bill on May 13 in Washington, D.C., Senator Gardner said:
“Colorado has become a haven for people in need and parents desperate to pursue treatment for their children. Making this medicine available nationwide is the right thing to do and would help families cope with these serious illnesses.”
Senator Bennet added:
“No parent wants to see their child suffer. At the very least, we should ease these restrictions to ensure that families have access to the medicine that their kids need.”
However, the Therapeutic Hemp Medical Access Act isn’t the only effort in Congress to legalize the use of life-saving CBD oils and other cannabis products by children and adults with treatment-resistant diseases such as rare forms of epilepsy.
The CARERS Act, a competing bill sponsored by New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker and Kentucky Republican Rand Paul (among others), is seeking to make CBD oil legal for children and adults. Like the Therapeutic Hemp Medical Access Act, CARERS has solid Republican support from leaders like Paul and Dean Heller, a senator from Nevada.
As more states move to legalize at least medical marijuana, pressure is being applied at the federal level by progressive senators like Gardner, Bennet, and Heller to make patients who take advantage of such state laws also legal at the federal level. Such nationwide legality would remove a shroud of fear — which has included violent DEA busts of individuals and dispensaries — that has prevailed over those states that have legalized medical cannabis.
While an increasing number of states consider the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana, federal authorities have continued to enforce strict Congressional laws that, technically speaking, outlaw the cultivation, possession, and use of cannabis in any form and for any reason — anywhere in the United States.
It’s possibly not overly coincidental that Barack Obama recently spoke out in support of medical cannabis when being interviewed by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN. On April 21, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Michele Leonhart will be “retiring” her role as chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in May. Leonhart, depicted by even mainstream media as a Luddite who played it by the book, refused to ever admit that cannabis might offer medicinal value. Under testimony before Congress, she even refused to recognize that cannabis might be safer than hard drugs like heroin and methamphetamines.
Leonhart’s behavior has been lockstep with marijuana’s categorization under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Spanning back to the Nixon administration in 1970, this classification has prohibited the research necessary to prove the medical efficacy of cannabis for a wide range of diseases and ailments.
Recently, 20 lawmakers on the House Oversight committee logged a vote of “no confidence” for Ms. Leonhart’s leadership of the DEA. This was in response to the latest scandal involving drug cartel-funded prostitution parties in Columbia in which DEA agents participated. This inevitably led to AG Holder’s announcement.
Medical Research Needed
With no hard medical evidence, agencies like the DEA and the Department of Justice have been able to say “There’s no medical value, Schedule I makes sense.” But, in a nasty Catch 22, maintaining cannabis as a Schedule I drug has prevented the medical research necessary to prove to the government — and voters in both parties — that cannabis offers solid and significant medical benefits.
With Leonhart no longer warming the DEA chief’s seat in a few short weeks, Obama has the opportunity to prove the sincerity of his recent support for “science-based” medical cannabis — and correct his mistake of appointing Leonhart in the first place.
He can appoint a scientist or senior medical researcher, signaling the administration’s approach to all drugs to be one of health policy, not criminal enforcement. If the new chief recognized the need to reclassify cannabis as Schedule II, it would spur countless research studies and expand entrepreneurial efforts in legal states like Colorado, Washington, and Alaska.
Obama told Gupta during his interview with CNN:
“…not only do I think carefully prescribed medical use of marijuana may in fact be appropriate and we should follow the science as opposed to ideology on this issue, but I’m also on record as saying that the more we treat some of these issues related to drug abuse from a public health model and not just from an incarceration model, the better off we’re going to be.”
There is already an effort in Congress to reclassify cannabis to Schedule II that’s being spearheaded by Senators Cory Booker, Rand Paul, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Dean Heller called the CARERS (Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States) Act.
CARERS is a bipartisan bill that, if it became law, would allow states to legalize medical marijuana without federal interference. It would also allow Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend cannabis to veterans suffering from brain injury, neurological disorders, and PTSD. In addition, the bill would legalize high CBD strains of marijuana, making them viable medical treatments on a national level (especially for treatment-resistant epilepsy in both children and adults).
Is Obama Sincere?
If Obama wants to validate his own words in support of medical marijuana, he will appoint a new DEA chief that supports rescheduling and, by extension, robust research into the medical efficacy of cannabis. In addition, he should openly support the CARERS Act, possibly giving the bill the momentum it needs to become law and begin the inevitable recognition, legalization, and regulation of medical marijuana on the part of the federal government.
For a late second term president who might be looking for a positive legacy — one that doesn’t involve terrorism, war, corporate bailouts, and a lagging economy — pushing forth the first federal-level medical marijuana legislation could go a long way in terms of public opinion (all of which indicates that the majority of citizens support medical cannabis).