An amendment filed in the Senate in late July could shield states with medical marijuana from prosecution, as well as patients who use cannabis and the doctors who recommend it to them.
The amendment was introduce July 24 by Sen. Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. Paul wants to attach the amendment to the jobs bill introduced by Sen. John Walsh, Democrat of Montana.
“What we’re trying to do is look at the law and allow states that have changed their laws and have allowed medical marijuana to do so, for doctors to be able to prescribe and for people to be able to get those prescriptions without being worried about the federal government coming in and arresting them,” said Brian Darling, Paul’s spokesman.
Paul Aims to Protect Patients
The amendment, co-sponsored by Democratic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, would let states “enact and implement laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana for medical use” without risk of prosecution.
Full medical pot is legal in 23 states, while another 11, including Kentucky, have approved a limited, non-intoxicating form of the drug. The amendment would protect patients in these programs from prosecution for breaking federal law.
All pot is barred by federal anti-drug statutes. Weed is included in schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act, which was enacted in the 1970s. That schedule is reserved for the most dangerous, most addictive, and least medically useful drugs. It includes heroin, LSD, and peyote, among other substances.
Activists have been pushing the DEA for decades to reclassify pot to a less restrictive schedule (or remove it from the schedules entirely). Congress can also change the listing, and though that isn’t likely in the immediate future, President Obama recently said he’s open to working with lawmakers to reschedule marijuana.
U.S. House Is Favorable to MMJ
If the amendment passes, it wouldn’t be the first time Congress has acted to protect medical weed. In May, the U.S. House passed a budget bill with a similar amendment barring the federal government from spending money in pursuit of patients, providers, and doctors.
A month later, after that amendment was declared dead in the water, Paul introduced the new legislation.
“The effort before was to defund prosecutions, so it would block the federal government from prosecuting until that appropriations bill runs out about a year later,” Darling said. The amendment Paul filed in July “would protect the states’ rights to make those decisions about medical marijuana that wouldn’t expire when the appropriations bill comes back up.”
Though the amendment probably won’t get a vote in the Senate, Darling said Paul could introduce other, similar legislation in the future.