While the short-term future of marijuana legislation might be subject to the whims of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, pot’s long-term progress will ultimately be decided by the people. For the first time in the nation’s history, the number of Republicans who support legalization (45 percent) is bigger than the number of those who don’t (42 percent). And even if Republicans disagree with legalization in principle, more than half (54 percent) don’t think the government’s current efforts to enforce marijuana laws are worth the cost.
So far, twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia allow medical use of marijuana, and if a new medical marijuana legislation bill filed in the U.S. House and Senate is successful, the nation’s laws will be even closer to matching the will of its people.
In June, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives introduced comprehensive medical marijuana legislation that would block the federal government from interfering with medical marijuana activity legal at the state level, permit Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical cannabis, remove cannabidiol from the Controlled Substances Act, and expand research on marijuana.
Initial sponsors of the bill are: Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mike Lee (R-UT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Rand Paul (R-KY), Al Franken (D-MN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The House version will have similar bipartisan backing.
The legislation is similar to legislation that garnered considerable support in both chambers last Congress. In order to build on that support, this new version drops earlier provisions that would have rescheduled cannabis and helped marijuana-based businesses gain access to banks — provisions that are currently addressed by separate pending bills.
“A majority of states now have comprehensive medical marijuana laws on the books, and a supermajority of Americans support letting patients access cannabis without fear of arrest,” said Tom Angell, founder and chairman of Marijuana Majority, in a statement addressing the proposal. “It’s well past time for Congress to modernize federal law so that people with cancer, multiple sclerosis and PTSD don’t have to worry about Jeff Sessions sending in the DEA to arrest them or their suppliers. The diverse group of lawmakers behind this new legislation shows that medical cannabis is an issue of compassion, not partisan politics.”
If the legislation is enacted, lawsuits like one filed recently in Kentucky would be unnecessary.
According to the suit, Kentucky’s criminal ban against medical marijuana violates state constitutional privacy protections. As the suit rightly points out, more than half of the states in the nation allow patients suffering from chronic pain and other conditions to use medical marijuana as an alternative to "often dangerous and addictive" prescription drugs. It is also touches on the effectiveness of marijuana in helping people overcome opioid addiction.
There are protections in place that keep the Department of Justice from using taxpayer dollars to block the sale of medical marijuana. And while it might remain to be seen if bans like Kentucky’s will remain in place, Sessions wrote a letter to congressional leaders in May asking Congress to remove the protections that block him from using money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws.
While Congress hasn’t granted his wish, the fact that he made such a request, coupled with the July 27 deadline he set for a Justice Department task force to review the country’s marijuana policies, would seem to indicate that the battle over legalization is far from over.
Hopefully, the lawmakers who are promoting the latest bill are up for the fight.