Senators introduce bill to 'decriminalize' marijuana at federal level

Abbie Bennett
May 09, 2019 - 2:00 pm

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Congress is taking another step that could lead to medical marijuana access for veterans by introducing a bill that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Democratic Caucus chairman Hakeem Jeffries announced their plans to introduce the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act on Thursday. By removing marijuana from the CSA, the bill could end nearly a century-long federal policy of criminalization and prohibition.

An end to federal criminalization and prohibition of marijuana doesn't mean legalization, though, NORML political director Justin Strekal told Connecting Vets Thursday, since state laws will still stand. 

"It wouldn't necessarily be legal -- just not prohibited," Strekal said. "We could still see people in handcuffs for years to come because of state and municipal codes." 

Thirty-three states, Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories Guam and Puerto Rico already have legalized marijuana in some way.

The Department of Veterans Affairs leadership has so far opposed proposed legislation in Congress to potentially expand medical marijuana to veterans or call on the VA to study its efficacy in treating issues such as chronic pain and post-traumatic stress in veterans.

The VA has cited the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug as the reason it is against the legislation.

VA opposes bills to allow veterans access to medical marijuana

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law (NORML) leadership announced support of the bill Thursday.

“At a time when 68 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization, including outright majorities of Democrats (77 percent), Independents (62 percent), and Republicans (57 percent), it is time for ending federal prohibition to become a truly bipartisan issue in the eyes of voters,” Strekal said in a statement. “Legislative relief must come sooner rather than later. Over 650,000 Americans, disproportionately black, brown, young, and poor, are arrested for violating marijuana laws annually. Those without the means to defend themselves from the state bear the greatest burden and lifelong consequences of this ongoing failed federal policy. It is time for Congressional leaders to take a stand to right these past wrongs.”

Schumer announced his and Jeffries’ new bill with a video on Twitter Thursday.

The text of the bill had not been filed as of 2 p.m. Thursday.

Congress canceled votes on bills to help veterans access medical marijuana

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