In Washington D.C., the issue of marijuana is quickly becoming one of the bigger elephants in the room. Make no mistake, there are several issues just like it, but the fact that four states and now the District itself have had voters give marijuana the go-ahead for legalization — and that federal legislators are still sitting on their hands in addressing it — is really getting ridiculous.
But there are some spikes in the Congressional EKG machine, indicating that there is some momentum in sorting things out. In fact, this latest attempt has the backing of not one but three U.S. senators, representing a bipartisan effort to finally legalize one of America’s long-standing legal gray areas: medical marijuana.
The Hill reports that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has teamed up with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to bring legislation to the table that will, if passed, lead to at least partial federal legalization of medical cannabis. In effect, the new law would allow medical marijuana use nationwide. State Column reports the bill is called the CARES Act, and will move marijuana’s classification from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 — a drug with medicinal value.
“The bipartisan nature of this proposal reflects the broad public support for resolving the tension between state and federal marijuana laws. 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,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, per a report from Roll Call.
At the heart of this legislation is an attempt to address, at least in part, the paradoxical nature of marijuana laws between the federal government, and the states. Washington D.C. has been at the very center of this conversation since November, when constituents of the District actually voted to legalize recreational marijuana use and sales despite the fact that it’s still federally illegal. The four other states to have done so — Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Colorado — are all out west, far from the actual center of the federal government.
But this attempt by these three senators is much needed. Medical marijuana laws have been on the books in several U.S. states for nearly two decades, starting with California in the mid-1990s. Public opinion is also in favor of the federal government loosening regulations, as a Gallup poll from November 2014 shows that 51% of Americans support full-legalization. Support for medical marijuana legalization is even higher, with 81% of the American public throwing their weight behind it as of 2010, in an ABC News poll.
Previously, we’ve discussed how letting legitimate medical cannabis markets thrive, could ultimately be a boon for business, and help the economy. It’s apparent that that hasn’t been lost on at least some members of Congress, many of which realize that the current state of federal prohibition is merely a finger in the dam trying to hold back the inevitable flood.
“The conflicting nature of state and federal marijuana laws has created an untenable situation,” said Oregon congressman Earl Blumenauer, according to The Huffington Post. “It’s time we take the federal government out of the equation so medical marijuana business owners operating under state law aren’t living in constant fear of having their doors kicked down in the middle of the night.”
The fact of the matter is, whether the federal government has given medical cannabis markets is blessing hasn’t seemed to matter so far. There have been cutbacks in raids on medical dispensaries by agencies like the DEA, and there really hasn’t been any negative effects from the opening of public recreational markets in Washington and Colorado. The only thing that the government has effectively done by relegating marijuana trade to the black and gray markets is miss out on lucrative tax revenue.
This proposal by three senators is definitely a step in the right direction, though there are still many, many hurdles to clear. But if D.C. can finally get up to speed on the changing times and give, at the very least, medical cannabis markets the green light, it would stop delaying the inevitable, and clear considerable red tape.