The federal government should back off medical marijuana. As New York prepares to roll out its program next year, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is working to make sure sick people in states whose laws allow them to use the drug won't have to fear federal prosecution.
Federal law enforcement agencies would be ordered to stand down if legislation Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced Monday with Corey Booker (D-N.J.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) becomes law. It would amend federal law to recognize that states have the right to set their own medical marijuana policies, and it would direct federal authorities not to prosecute patients, doctors, caregivers and businesses in states that have made what they're doing legal.
The legislation would not legalize medical marijuana in all 50 states. But it would reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug, which means for the first time officially recognizing that there are acceptable medical uses despite the potential for abuse.
Banks that provide accounts and financial services for legal growers, dispensaries and other pot-based businesses would be relieved of the threat of federal prosecution for that business. As a result, those enterprises would no longer be forced to operate as all-cash businesses that are targets for criminals.
The federal approval process for marijuana research would be streamlined to shave months and maybe years from the wait. And by authorizing three new federal pot farms in addition to the sole one now at the University of Mississippi, the bill would slash the time it takes to get a supply of the drug for approved studies.
Veterans Affairs doctors would also be allowed to prescribe medical marijuana in states where it's legal.
In short, the legislation would bring federal law into line with the reality of what's happening around the country. The District of Columbia and 23 states have legalized medical marijuana. In New York it will become available for approved patients in January.
States are leading the way on medical marijuana. The federal government should get out of the way and let them do it.