Currently, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Fifteen other states have legalized CBD-only medication. The states’ laws have varying levels of strictness — from Minnesota and New York where smoking raw medical cannabis is banned, to California where NORML recommends patients grow up to 12 plants.
This patchwork of marijuana laws across the nation leaves travelers wary (or enthusiastic), makes national organizations unsure of what regulations to enact, and forces some potential patients in prohibition states to have to move.
Federal legalization of medical marijuana could put an end to the confusion and inequality. It’s unlikely that drastic reform will happen anytime soon, but there are a few potential ways that the federal government could soon legalize medical marijuana in some form.
1. DEA Reschedules CBD
The most conservative — and therefore most likely — scenario for federal medical marijuana would be if the Drug Enforcement Agency classified CBD separately from cannabis and hemp under the Controlled Substances Act.
Currently, cannabis is classified as having no medical benefit as a Schedule I drug. However, multiple federal government agencies, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse, have supported rescheduling CBD or declassifying it completely.
Even notorious anti-marijuana legislator Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is working toward this solution. She recently multiple sent letters with Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) to the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services asking them to reschedule CBD. In June, she announced that the departments had accepted her request and would undergo a new analysis of CBD’s scheduling.
Given the widely accepted medical benefits of CBD and the FDA’s approval of its use for children with a rare seizure syndrome, it isn’t too far-fetched to presume that the federal government legalization of CBD medicine is on the horizon.
However, marijuana legalization enthusiasts shouldn’t be too excited by this proposition. First, the DEA is only considering the reclassification of CBD, not the whole cannabis plant. Second, the reclassification of CBD-only medicine would leave most medical cannabis products illegal, and large pharmaceutical companies are well-poised to dominate the CBD-only industry.
2. Congress Passes Law
The DEA does not need authorization from Congress to declassify marijuana on its own. However, Congress is already moving independently to legalize medical marijuana at the federal level.
The bill with the most promise and gaining the most press is the CARERS Act, or the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act, sponsored by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). CARERS would grant states the right to enact their own medical marijuana laws without fear of federal prosecution or federal conflicts of law, would grant veterans access to the medication and would allow certain strains to be trafficked across state lines. The bill would also reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, opening it up for research as a potential medicinal substance.
While CARERS has stalled in committee and has yet to receive the substantial Republican support it would need to pass, it has still seen enough momentum that similar bills in later sessions might see more success as the tide of public opinion turns.
Also, CARERS doesn’t make marijuana legal on the federal level, it simply opens up medical legalization as a future possibility through rescheduling and allows states to keep their medical programs intact.
There are currently 38 other bills about cannabis introduced to Congress this session (though most deal with banking, education, environment and other concerns rather than legalization). Two other bills — House Bill 1774 from Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and House Bill 1940 from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) — would also allow for state medical marijuana programs and both are currently in committee. Finally, House Bill 1013 from Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) would legalize federal adult-use marijuana, but the bill is unlikely to succeed when only four states have independently legalized cannabis.
3. Legalizing Rider Attaches To A Bill
In 2014, Senators Dana Rohrabacher and Sam Farr (D-CA) slipped in an amendment into a federal omnibus spending bill. Their amendment removed all funding for the Department of Justice to crack down on the implementation of states’ medical marijuana programs. While the DOJ challenges that interpretation of the amendment, the rider that Rohrabacher and Farr passed in 2014 and again in 2015 was a landmark development in the federal government’s ability to support medical marijuana programs.
Another amendment could take the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment a step further, and effectively legalize medical marijuana nationwide. A rider could do anything from rescheduling marijuana to granting federal employees and veterans exemptions from prosecution. No amendments introduced this legislative session would do such a thing, but it is possible in the future.
4. Executive Order
It’s no secret that Barack Obama smoked marijuana in his youth. He was elected twice with this knowledge widely known after he wrote about it in his book “Dreams From My Father” in 1995. Recently, he has pardoned non-violent drug offenders, lifted restrictions on marijuana research and said he believes marijuana is “no more dangerous than alcohol.”
However, it is still highly unlikely that the president would expend so much political capital to legalize medical marijuana without the support of Congress. While speaking in Jamaica in April, Obama expressed interest in the “experiment” of legal cannabis underway in Colorado and Washington while remaining hesitant to take any action himself.
“I do not foresee, any time soon, Congress changing the law at a national basis,” he said. “But I do think that if there are states that show that they are not suddenly a magnet for additional crime, that they have a strong enough public health infrastructure to push against the potential for increased addiction, then it’s conceivable that it will spur on a national debate. But that is going to be some time off.”
However, it’s not too far out of the realm of possibility that the 2016 elections could bring to office a candidate with the support and platform to enact such a federal marijuana program.
5. Alien Takeover
While this possibility is highly unlikely, cannabis is legal in space.
How do you think cannabis could be legalized on a federal level? Let us know.