“This is a significant step forward when it comes to reforming marijuana laws at the federal level,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest marijuana-policy-reform organization. “The vast majority of Americans support laws that allow seriously ill people to access medical marijuana. Several marijuana policy reform bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives. The introduction of this legislation in the Senate demonstrates just how seriously this issue is being taken on Capitol Hill.”
According to Tuesday’s press release from the Marijuana Policy Project, the bill would:
- Officially recognize the medical benefits of marijuana by moving it from Schedule I, which is reserved for substances with “no currently accepted medical use,” to Schedule II;
- Remove federal penalties for and restrictions on production, distribution, and possession of marijuana for medical purposes when in compliance with state laws (it also applies to states that have adopted limited laws that allow only cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component in marijuana);
- Allow physicians employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states where it is legal (current VA policy prohibits them from completing documentation required by state medical marijuana laws);
- Allow financial institutions to provide banking services to marijuana businesses; and
- End the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s monopoly on producing marijuana for research purposes by requiring the Drug Enforcement Administration to issue additional permits.
“This is a proposal that Republicans and Democrats should both be able to get behind. It’s a matter of compassion and justice, states’ rights, public safety, and medical choice,” Riffle said. “There is no rational reason to maintain laws that prevent doctors from recommending medical marijuana, prohibit seriously ill people from using it, and punishing those who provide it to them.”
Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have laws that legalize medical marijuana. However, since marijuana is categorized as a Schedule I drug under federal law, the government says it has no medicinal or medical value and therefore it is still technically illegal in all 50 states.
The overall attitude in Washington over marijuana is changing, but at a stubbornly slower pace than general public opinion. A recent report from the General Social Study shows that a majority of Americans, for the first time, support the full legalization of marijuana, not just for medicinal purposes. In a single decade, support for legalization jumped 19 points and has increased sharply since 1990.
More states are not only considering medical marijuana legislation, but laws that would legalize the drug for recreational use as well. In 2014, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia approved legalization for recreational use, joining Colorado and Washington state. In 2016, several more states are expected to take up similar measures, which may be putting more pressure on Congress to act.
“Resolving the tension between state and federal marijuana laws is a policy change that is long overdue,” Riffle said. “This bill would improve public safety by allowing all marijuana businesses to access the banking system and no longer forcing them to operate on a cash-only basis. It also addresses important issues of tax fairness for those in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.”