Marijuana Bill Gains Cosponsors in House and Senate

Four Democrats, three Republicans add their names to CARERS Act in House

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March 31, 2015

A bill legalizing medical marijuana at the federal level gained several new bipartisan cosponsors Tuesday, with four Democrats and three Republicans in the House adding their names as cosponsors of the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act.

In addition to amending federal law to allow states to set their own policies on medical marijuana, the CARERS Act would change the Drug Enforcement Agency's classification of marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug, opening up more medical research opportunities. It would also allow doctors to prescribe medical cannabis to military veterans.

The new cosponsors are Reps. Bob Conyers (D., Mich.), Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.), Bill Nadler (D., N.Y.), Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (D., Calif.), Richard Hanna (R., N.Y.), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D., D.C.). Rep. Norton is a non-voting member of the House.

An aide familiar with the discussions said the bill’s sponsors expect several more GOP members to sign on when Congress returns from recess in April.

Reps. Steve Cohen (D., Tenn.) and Don Young (R., Ak.) introduced the House version of the bill last week.

"Republicans and Democrats agree: federal law on medical marijuana is outdated, out of touch, and needs to change," Cohen said in a statement Tuesday. "Ailing patients deserve compassion, not prosecution, especially when they live in states that have legalized medical marijuana."

The CARERS Act was introduced in the Senate earlier this month by Sens. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), Cory Booker (D., N.J.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.). According to policy watchers, this is the first bill liberalizing federal marijuana laws to have been introduced in the Senate.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) and Dean Heller (R., Nv.) added their names as cosponsors earlier this month. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D., Calif.) said in a statement that she is reviewing the legislation.

The new sponsors bring the total number of supporters to six Republicans and six Democrats. 

"We need policies that empower states to legalize medical marijuana if they so choose—recognizing that there are Americans who can realize real medical benefits if this treatment option is brought out of the shadows," Booker said in a statement. "The growing momentum and bipartisan support for the CARERS Act in both the Senate and House are a clear indication that together, we can and will make medical marijuana accessible to the millions of Americans who could benefit from it."

The bill faces several hurdles in the Senate, the first and most pressing being Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Grassley said during a town hall Monday that he would have to read the bill before deciding whether it would go to the committee for debate. Grassley has in the past been critical of the Obama administration’s looser drug policy.

House Republicans in general have been more open to liberalizing the nation’s drug laws than their Senate counterparts. Last year, 49 House Republicans joined Democrats in passing an amendment introduced by Rohrabacher to halt DEA raids on medical marijuana operations.

However, five of the "no" votes came from Republican House leadership.