These Senators Are Making the Case for Medical Weed

Sens. Cory Booker, Rand Paul, and Kirsten Gillibrand pushed for medical marijuana at a Tuesday press conference.

Marijuana has long been classified in the federal government as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no use—medical or otherwise—in society. Now, a group of bipartisan senators is trying to change the classification to Schedule II, which would acknowledge that the drug has an accepted medical use, and free states to enact their medical-marijuana laws without the fear of federal legal repercussions.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul, joining with Democrats Sens. Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, introduced the CARERS Act (Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States) Tuesday. The law seeks to legalize medical marijuana in states that have already passed medical-marijuana legislation. Essentially, it would be a codification of the status quo—the Obama administration does not pursue federal marijuana charges in states that have passed pro-marijuana legislation.

"Across the country, state lawmakers have already recognized what medical research is showing us," Gillibrand said at a Tuesday press conference. "Cannabis can treat a variety of illnesses, from MS, to cancer, to epilepsy, to seizures." Gillibrand said that parents who give sick children medical marijuana are afraid "of a knock on a door from child services." And that should be changed.

"We want to take it down to a Schedule II, so doctors can prescribe this more easily," Paul said. "We don't want doctors to be punished for simply trying to help people." A Schedule II classification would also make it easier for universities and drug companies to conduct studies on marijuana. "The science must be allowed to speak for itself," Gillibrand said.

In addition, the legislation would make it easier for medical marijuana businesses to use the national banking system without fear of breaking the law. There are dangers and annoyances of having a cash-only business: from paying utilities in cash to storing vast amount of money on-site. "It prevents us from getting the medicine to the people," Corey Barnette, the owner of District Growers in Washington, said at the news conference.

The senators also framed the issue in terms of veterans' rights, who when receiving care from the VA system, are ineligible for medical marijuana. "Right now, our veterans are prohibited from getting the medical treatment they desperately need to [relieve] their pain and suffering," Booker said.

Fielding a question from the press, Gillibrand said the bipartisan group of senators is "going to approach all our colleagues" about supporting the bill. Speaking after some medical-marijuana patients had spoken, Gillibrand said that she dares "any senator to meet these patients here and say to them, they don't deserve the medicine their doctors prescribed."