Source: Motley Fool By Sean Williams

 

This Historic Bill Could Pave the Way for Medical Marijuana’s Legalization

By Sean Williams | More Articles
March 14, 2015 | Comments (2)


Source: Flickr user oswaldo.

The momentum behind marijuana is simply undeniable.

Over the past decade, consumer opinions on whether the drug should be legalized for recreational or medical purposes has dramatically shifted to the point where a majority of Americans are now in favor of its legalization — although support for using marijuana for medical purposes often outweighs support for legalizing it from a recreational perspective.

A 2013 Gallup poll showed that 58% of respondents were in favor of legalizing the drug, while millennials from both the Republican and Democratic parties are widely in favor of legalizing marijuana based on recent Pew Research Center poll.

The economics behind marijuana
Aside from supporters simply wanting marijuana use to be free of federal or state prosecution, the legalization of marijuana has two key purposes.

First, recreational and medical marijuana are subject to state, local, and excise taxes. If the federal government ever changed its stance on marijuana, it could probably implement marijuana taxes as well. This tax revenue, as well as license fee revenue collected by individual states, can help close budget gaps, ensuring some government employees keep their jobs, and other social programs within a state stay funded.

Also, legalizing medical marijuana could open new possibilities in terms of clinical research for pharmaceutical companies and give terminally ill and sick individuals access to marijuana for diseases and disorders where it may demonstrate a clinical benefit.


Source: Flickr user Shay Sowden.

The major roadblock for the movement is the long-standing Controlled Substances Act, which lists marijuana as a schedule 1, or illicit, drug. While the federal government has allowed states to formulate their own marijuana policies, the drug is still considered illegal on the federal level, and those in possession of marijuana could be subject to federal prosecution.

However, this could all be about to change.

Historic change could be right around the corner
Earlier this week, three U.S. Senators — Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) — introduced a bill into the Senate that would put an end to the federal ban on medical marijuana.

Sen. Rand Paul. (R-Ky.). Source: PBSNews Hour via Flickr.

Known as the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act, or CARERS Act, it would “allow patients, doctors, and businesses in states that have already passed medical marijuana laws to participate in those programs without fear of federal prosecution.” The proposed bill is also designed to ensure that veterans receive access to medical marijuana in states where medical marijuana is currently legalized.

It’s important to note, however, that proposing a bill to legalize medical marijuana on the federal level doesn’t mean marijuana would become available in all 50 states in the blink of an eye. This bill would need sufficient votes in the Senate, then House of Representatives, and would need the signature of President Obama in order to be enacted into law.

Furthermore, while it decriminalizes the use of marijuana for medical purposes, it doesn’t require states to legalize the substance. The law merely entails the federal government stepping back and allowing states to regulate their own medical marijuana businesses on a state-by-state basis. This means governing bodies who are against its legalization wouldn’t have to participate.

In other words, even if medical marijuana were legalized nationwide, there would be plenty of states (and even jurisdictions within states) where it could remain illegal.

3 major changes proposed by the CARERS Act
Humor me for a moment and just pretend that the protection of medical marijuana from federal prosecution isn’t among the three biggest changes proposed by this act. In a way, this is sort of true since the federal government has taken a hands-off approach to state regulation anyway. Currently there are 23 states, plus Washington D.C., that have legalized the use of medical marijuana.

Instead, there are three other major doorways that could be opened by the passage of the CARERS Act.

First, nationwide legalization of medical marijuana would require the Controlled Substances Act to be modified. Specifically, it would entail the federal government removing marijuana as a schedule 1 drug and reclassifying it as a schedule 2 drug.

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