The call for cannabis reform on the national level has been coming from
some very surprising sources recently, including the American Medical
Association (AMA), the Brookings Institution and presidential
candidates. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders announced
recently that he is in favor of removing marijuana from the Controlled
(CSA). In support of his stance, Sanders introduced a bill into the
Senate that would amend the CSA as well as give states the authority to
make their own decisions about cannabis and cannabinoids.
This statement by Sanders is a major turning point in political debate
over medical marijuana on the national stage. As a serious Democratic
contender for the White House, Sanders holds an influential position.
His statements on this issue will affect policy decisions and the
opinions of many others, both inside and outside of his party. The fact
that Sanders issued this statement now also highlights the popularity
and urgency of this issue during the busy campaign season. Many media
sources have pointed out that his bill in the Senate echoes the language
of a bill now being
in the House of Representatives.
"It’s a state and a federal issue," Sanders said. "The federal issue is
that we should remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.
That’s a federal decision. The state decision is that we live in a
federal system of government where issues like tobacco and alcohol are
significantly regulated by the states. And I think that is a province of
If medical marijuana is rescheduled from a Schedule I to a Schedule II
substance, or removed from the CSA entirely, it and its derivatives
would be able to undergo much wider scientific testing. Current research
concentrates on the negative effects of marijuana, but rescheduling
would allow researchers to investigate more of its healing aspects.
Current federal policy discourages research, especially risk aversion
among institutional review boards. Similarly, many universities have
declined medical marijuana research proposals due to their concern over
reactions from donors, parents and college trustees.
Sanders is not alone among presidential candidates in
of updating government policy on issues related to medical marijuana. In
fact, Republican Rand Paul is a vocal critic of current policy and
supports wider medical marijuana research, access to banking services by
marijuana providers and the right for states to decide how they will
proceed on the issue.
In an attack on one of his main rivals, Paul pointed out, "If you’ve got
MS in Florida, Jeb Bush voted to put you in jail if you go to a local
drugstore and get medical marijuana. Yet he was doing it for
recreational purposes, and it’s a different standard for him because he
was from a very wealthy family going to a wealthy school, and he got off
scot-free." During the Republican debate, Bush admitted to smoking
marijuana, simply tweeting afterward, "Sorry Mom."
Florida Senator Marco Rubio also expressed his qualified support for
changing federal policy on medical marijuana. He told the Tampa Bay
Times, "If there are medicinal uses of marijuana that don’t have the
elements that are mind-altering or create the high but do alleviate
whatever condition they are trying to alleviate, that is something I
would be open to."
The push for more medical marijuana research by these candidates was
also supported by major healthcare institutions. Over the summer, the
AMA published a report stating that marijuana should be considered a
form of medicine. Their review of scientific
concluded that the "use of marijuana for chronic pain, neuropathic pain
and spasticity due to multiple sclerosis is supported by high-quality
Meanwhile, the influential Washington think tank The Brookings
Institution called on lawmakers to reschedule marijuana from Schedule I
to Schedule II, facilitate medical research into its potential benefits
and expand the Compassionate Investigative New Drug (IND) Program. Their
report pointed out that Marinol, a synthetic cannabinoid, was
rescheduled from Schedule I to Schedule II in 1985 and moved down again
to Schedule III in 1999.
Rescheduling alone is only one step. The Brookings Institution pointed
out that the federal government’s policies regarding medical marijuana
involve many other agencies that deal with pharmaceuticals, healthcare,
public health, medical research, business taxation and federal
enforcement. Today, there remains a hodgepodge of conflicting policies
that need to be clearly defined and standardized across the board.
Their report concludes, "As the next president comes to office, he or
she will inherit a marijuana policy regime that is inconsistent and
often contradictory. It is incumbent on President Obama’s successor to
introduce some uniformity, discipline and sensibility to this policy
area. Focusing on medical marijuana research would be a good place to
The public is ready for this change, well ahead of politicians. Research
from national Gallup
shown that the majority of U.S. citizens have been in favor of marijuana
legalization for the past three years. This year, the favorable rating
has reached 58 percent. For those in the 18 to 34 age group, that
favorability rating has increased to 71 percent, which is the best
indication of future U.S. policy.