Military veterans would no longer be denied access to medical marijuana under sweeping new legislation before the Senate.
The medical marijuana legislation introduced Tuesday would lift the threat of federal prosecution from people who use it in states where it has been legalized.
The bipartisan Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act is backed by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and would partially legalize medical marijuana at the federal level, though it does not address recreational marijuana.
“This bill seeks to right decades of wrong and end unnecessary marijuana laws,” Booker said.
“Right now, our veterans are prohibited from getting the medical marijuana they need to alleviate their pain and suffering,” he added.
The Senate legislation follows two House bills introduced last month that would legalize and tax recreational marijuana.
The federal government would recognize states’ rights to legalize medical marijuana under the legislation, but it would not unilaterally legalize it across the country.
Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
One of the biggest winners would be military veterans, marijuana advocates say.
Doctors at the Department of Veteran Affairs are currently prohibited from prescribing medical marijuana to patients — even if they live in states where it has been legalized — because it is a federally banned drug.
This prevents many veterans from receiving medical marijuana, because they cannot afford to go outside the military system to seek treatment.
“We don’t want doctors to be punished for trying to help people,” Paul said.
VA doctors would be allowed to recommend medical marijuana as a treatment option for patients in states where it has been legalized under the new legislation, which would reschedule it out of a list of federally banned substances like heroin and cocaine.
However, other military veterans who live in states without medical marijuana laws would still be prohibited from seeking such treatment options.
The legislation highlights the difficulties many veterans face in obtaining medical marijuana recommendations from their doctors.
“The government shouldn’t prevent doctors from prescribing medicine that has been shown to work,” Gillibrand said.
The pot paradox that has seen medical marijuana patients arrested for violating federal law, even though they were in compliance with state law, would meet a swift end under the new Senate legislation.
In some cases, federal prosecutors have charged medical marijuana patients who were following their states’ rules.
The Obama administration has said it will no longer enforce the federal laws against medical marijuana. However, any future president could change that policy.
Last year, Congress adopted a policy in the appropriations bill saying it would not fund federal enforcement against medical marijuana patients.
However, the new proposal is the first fully-fledged legislative attempt at the federal level to allow medical marijuana in some states, sources say.