In March, marijuana reform in the United States moved forward one more small step. Marijuana’s superheroes in the Senate, the Batman and Robin team of Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) were joined by Batgirl Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY) in introducing what appears to be the next step towards federal cannabis legalization. Booker and Paul led Senate efforts on defunding the DEA last year.
A companion bill was introduced in the House less than a week later.
The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (or CARERS) Act, is a bill that is certainly a measure of forward reform, however it is not as comprehensive as many advocates hoped. The bill would do several things if passed into law. The first and most important is that it would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug on a federal level and legalize state medical marijuana programs. The measure would also allow greater research into the medical efficacy of the drug. It would also reschedule THC and CBD. THC would be rescheduled as a Schedule II drug. CBD would be completely descheduled. The rescheduling of THC and CBD, the best known cannabinoids, would also allow their sale at any participating conventional pharmacy anywhere in the country.
The bill also codifies the ability of CBD producers to ship both raw hemp and products across state lines. Even more importantly, military veterans across the country would finally have unfettered access to a drug which many claim is the only thing that really helps the multitude of chronic problems many vets face after service.
It is unclear, however, how fast such legislation will move this year. Despite widespread support for reform driven by state referendums to legalize the drug, Senate leadership, especially those members who also sit on the Judiciary Committee, is not widely supportive. As a result, the bill’s passage this year is uncertain to unlikely. Neither major national party has put the issue on their platform. All potential presidential candidates, except for Rand Paul, remain cagey on the topic.
That said, state-wide reform coentinues apace both on the medical use and recreational front. It is widely expcted that at least three states will also manage to pass recreational use laws during the 2016 elections. That this includes the grandfather of medical reform, California, will also undoubtedly push the overall debate nationally that much faster.
It is also in the states that political platforms are starting to change. In January, the Iowa Board of Pharmacy rescheduled CBD on their own. This is likely to put the issue front and center in national US politics by the time of the caucuses next year. The issue is also beginning to appear directly on state party platforms. Florida organizers last year called out the Democratic National Committee over the issue in the summer, facing down a state medical vote in the fall. This year, veterans in North Carolina are starting to gain notice as they organize to put the issue on the state GOP platform.
It is clear, therefore, that no matter what happens this year on the federal level, national marijuana reform in the US is proceeding, albeit a bit more slowly than advocates might wish, on schedule.