Republican Sen. Rand Paul joined Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand Tuesday to propose legislation to legalize medical marijuana on the federal level.
The bill, termed the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act, would move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, allow access for veterans and put a final stop to federal raids on dispensaries, among other things.
This is the first time a medical marijuana bill has been introduced in the Senate, whereas the House has seen 15 pieces of legislation on marijuana reform in the last session of Congress, according to Marijuana.com.
The move from Schedule I to Schedule II would mean federal regulatory recognition that marijuana has medicinal value, but also high abuse potential.
“This is an absolutely ground-breaking moment,” Leslie Bocskor, managing partner of Electrum Partners, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Whether it passes or not, the fact that it exists is an important step. In proposing to reschedule marijuana, the senators are also acknowledging the pre-existence of the marijuana manufacturing industry by including a provision on financial services and enforcement.”
For veterans, it would allow physicians at the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana in states where it is already legal.
“Veterans are underserved, and they often have significant PTSD challenges to deal with,” Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech, an indoor cultivation and agricultural research company, told TheDCNF. “Marijuana helps alleviate the symptoms of those trying to re-integrate after coming home from war theaters. That’s an absolute positive from the bill’s standpoint.”
While rescheduling would spur development in virtually all areas of the cannabis sector, Peterson notes that most in the industry would have preferred more extensive legalization.
“Ultimately, we’d like to see marijuana dropped from scheduling completely and for recreational marijuana to be put in the hands of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, to be regulated like alcohol,” Peterson said. “Medical marijuana should be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”
The District of Columbia, along with 23 other states, has some form of legal medical marijuana available to those with certain medical conditions when given a doctor’s recommendation. But companies in the medical marijuana space have faced considerable challenges when trying to interface with federally regulated services, such as the financial industry, where banks have been hesitant to put themselves at risk of potential backlash.
“This legislation is especially important for companies who previously have been unable to obtain financial services,” Bocskor told TheDCNF. “They can’t get credit cards cleared, insurance is difficult, banking is difficult—it’s all been terribly difficult, but still, almost every week I’m contacted by someone that’s interested in financial services for the cannabis industry.”
Peterson agreed, emphasizing the fact that blocking financial services slows innovation and places both business owners and customers in a precarious safety position.
“Startups in this area have all the same costs as in any other industry: raising capital, hiring a workforce, dealing with complex legislation which varies from state to state, and competition,” Peterson said. “Take all of those startup procedures and layer on top the problem of limited access to financial services. That costs jobs and tax revenue. There’s also a safety concern. Storing cash onsite is putting a target on the backs of employees and business owners. Currently, lots of dispensaries use banks, but they’ll do it under the guise of a different company, or they’ll only deposit a small percentage of revenue and hold the rest in cash.”
On the industry side, the bill would strike down federal penalties for the production, distribution and possession of medical marijuana within the bounds of state law. This means that federal enforcement would be prohibited from halting medical marijuana operations. This is a notable feature of the bill. The Drug Enforcement Administration has had a long history of raiding dispensaries which count as legal under state law but remain illegal under federal law.
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