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Booker, Paul Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Shield Marijuana States from DOJ

Farmworkers transport newly harvested marijuana plants at Los Suenos Farms in Avondale, Colo., on Oct. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

WASHINGTON – Facing a Justice Department seeking to crack down on medical marijuana jurisdictions, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and a group of bipartisan lawmakers on Thursday reintroduced legislation that would allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies free from the threat of federal prosecution.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions in May asked that Congress eliminate protections for medical marijuana users and proprietors in legal states, so that the department could crack down on illegal activity and combat dangerous drug traffickers in the midst of a historic drug epidemic. Sessions in his May 1 letter to leaders in both chambers asked lawmakers to remove the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which bars DOJ from spending appropriated funds to prosecute medical marijuana users and proprietors in legal states.

The lawmakers on Thursday reintroduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to protect medical cannabis patients, providers and businesses from federal prosecution. The bill would also remove certain strains of cannabidiol, a cannabis substance used to treat epilepsy and seizure disorders, from the federal definition of marijuana. The bill also would allow Veterans Affairs doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans in legal states and expand federal research for the substance.

The legislation has support from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), as well as Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Don Young (R-Alaska).

Booker on Thursday called Sessions’ letter to Congress “unacceptable,” while accusing the attorney general and the Trump administration of “some serious maneuvering” in attempting to “undermine the ability of states to set their own medical marijuana policies.”

“The fact is that our marijuana laws in American are broken. They are savagely broken, and the jagged pieces are hurting American people,” Booker said Thursday in Washington. “For far too long the federal government has overstepped the boundaries of common sense, fiscal prudence.”

Standing alongside Booker, Gillibrand said that without medical marijuana, certain patients are stuck with one alternative: opioids, which carry risks of addiction and death that marijuana does not.

“This is about our children, it’s about our communities, it’s about the health and well-being of our family members, and it is outrageous that they cannot access the medicine they need to save their lives,” she said.

Cohen said the legislation will show that lawmakers care about the American public and not “just the extremes really on the right edge that aren’t really aware of the fact that this is an important opportunity for science to study how marijuana can help others, for kids, for veterans and for states’ rights.”

The lawmakers were joined by several medical marijuana patients and their family members who spoke in support of the legislation. New York resident Kate Hintz is the mother of a 6-year-old daughter who uses medical marijuana to treat her Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy. Hintz said that dozens of prescribed pharmaceuticals had little impact on her daughter, but certain cannabidiol oils allowed her to be seizure free for two months after a few months of treatment.

Sessions in his letter to Congress wrote about criminal organizations using medical marijuana laws as shields for illegal, interstate drug trafficking operations. He pointed to a recent case in Colorado, where a drug ring of 16 people, who were indicted on drug charges, included eight who held Colorado marijuana licenses. Sessions also cited the negative health impacts of marijuana use, including psychosis, respiratory ailments, IQ loss and substance abuse.