Senate Democrats on Thursday urged Congress to pass legislation that bars federal authorities from interfering with medical marijuana programs, saying the Trump administration appears to be readying a crackdown on life-changing cannabis care.
Bipartisan bills in the House and Senate would allow patients to access medical marijuana in states that allow it without fear of prosecution, as the drug remains illegal under federal law.
“The fact is our marijuana laws in America are broken,” Sen. Cory Booker, New Jersey Democrat, said. “They are savagely broken, and the jagged pieces are hurting American people.”
Congress in recent years has tried to bar the Justice Department from using federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana users and providers in the states. Yet U.S. attorneys have interpreted the prohibition in various ways, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month asked Congress for a stronger hand in prosecuting providers.
“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Mr. Sessions wrote in a May 1 letter to House and Senate leaders. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”
Mr. Booker said Mr. Sessions’ letter reflected outdated thinking and appeared to conflate medical marijuana with the devastating opioids crisis. He urged the attorney general to listen to parents whose children have overcome seizure disorders by turning to cannabis oil or related treatments.
For his part, Mr. Sessions said criminal ringleaders have been known to set up shop within state marijuana programs. He also said smoking marijuana has negative health effects, including a decline in IQ.
Mr. Trump said he would leave marijuana decisions up the states during last year’s campaign, yet it’s unclear if he would sign a bill that’s opposed by his own attorney general.
Getting a contentious bill through Congress is another hurdle, even though the measure enjoys support from both parties.
Besides Mr. Booker, the measure is sponsored by Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Al Franken of Minnesota and Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat, and Don Young, Alaska Republican, are pushing a companion bill in the House.
Democratic sponsors said new studies point to medical marijuana’s effectiveness, so federal lawmakers shouldn’t cede the matter completely to the states.
“I believe things are changing and they’re changing fast,” Ms. Gillibrand said. “I think we will get the support we need.”
Mr. Cohen said public input is key, because “legislators are like turtles.”
“They don’t stick their heads out of their shells until it’s safe,” he said.
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