A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate on Tuesday seeks to roll back some of the prohibitions that have kept medical marijuana on the margins of American healthcare.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), would amend the Controlled Substances Act so that states can set their own medical marijuana policies.
“Many people have been finding relief, but some people are prevented from having that,” Paul said at a press conference on Tuesday. “We don’t want doctors to be punished for simply trying to help people.”
The federal government currently classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance, with no accepted medical use. The legislation seeks to change that designation, making cannabis a Schedule II drug. Under that label, it would still be subject to severe restrictions, but would have a recognized medical application and be more accessible to researchers.
While some advocates are optimistic, the future of the bill in Congress remains unclear. A budget measure passed in December included a provision to protect medical marijuana businesses from federal law enforcement — perhaps signalling a softened stance on the drug — but action on this level would represent a much bigger policy shift.
Along with the changes to the federal classification of marijuana, the measure would allow VA doctors to prescribe the drug to veterans. The bill would also remove certain hash oils — those heavy in CBDs, the non-psychoactive components of the drug — from the federal definition of marijuana.
Increasingly, families of children with debilitating seizure conditions are turning to the oils for relief. One mother from New York who spoke at the rollout for the legislation said her daughter — who also attended the event — suffered from daily seizures and even endured a mild one during brief remarks by Sen. Gillibrand.
Gillibrand called the introduction of the measure “the first step of a long process” and took a combative tone against lawmakers who might oppose changing marijuana rules.
“I dare any senator to meet these patients here and say to them that they don’t deserve the medicine that their doctors prescribed,” she said.