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WAMC News

Sens. Gillibrand, Booker And Paul Unveil Federal Medical Marijuana Bill

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New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined fellow Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky to propose what she brands a historic first in the nation's marijuana laws.

With states moving ahead of federal marijuana laws, Gillibrand, Booker and Paul introduced The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act.  If the bill passes, individual states could decide whether to legalize medical marijuana.

Senator Rand Paul:    "Doctors who wanna prescribe this, it's very difficult because it's schedule one, we wanna take it down to schedule 2 so doctors can prescribe it more easily. We don't want doctors to be punished for simply trying to help people."

Legalization is an idea that has blossomed over time in New York: A 2013 poll by the Siena Research Institute found that 82 percent of New York voters supported allowing seriously and terminally ill people to legally use marijuana for medical purposes, if recommended by a doctor.

In July, New York became the 23rd state to allow medical marijuana. An opponent of legalization in the past, Governor Andrew Cuomo got on board once concise restrictions and regulations were written into the measure.  "I feel confident that it gets us the best that medical marijuana has to offer in the most protected, controlled way possible."

The new bipartisan legislation would clear doctors, patients and businesses in states like New York that have already passed medical marijuana laws to participate in those programs without fear of federal prosecution. Gillibrand notes the drug has been successfully used to treat epileptic seizures.  "Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states plus the District of Columbia. 12 other states have laws permitting the use of CBD. It's a strain of medical marijuana that has almost no THC and doesn't cause a high. This is the medicine that so many parents have been prescribed for their children who have these seizures, daily seizures, hundreds of seizures, that actually prevent these children's brains from developing fully and living the fullest life they can."

The bill addresses what the senators say are overdue reforms to ensure patients – including veterans receiving care from VA facilities in states with medical marijuana programs – access the care they need.

Paul cites another benefit from a change in the law:  "I just came back from Colorado, and the biggest thing they're asking me is 'we want banking to be legal. We're legitimate enterprises now, we wanna be able to put our money in the bank. My guess is that even more tax money will be paid if they're allowed to keep their money in banks and not brown bags. So I think there's every reason to try to give more ease to people in the state who want this, more freedom for states and individuals."

The senators hope to bring the bill to a floor vote this year, but concede it is likely to face strong opposition.

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