A bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate that some say would end the federal government’s war on medical marijuana. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act seeks to reduce the federal government’s ability to crack down on state-legal medical marijuana programs. It would also encourage more research into medical marijuana. Bruce Feder, a local attorney who deals with marijuana issues in his practice, will tell us more about the act.
Ted Simons: The U.S. senate is considering a bill that would make a number of changes to the nation's marijuana laws, including allowing states to run medical marijuana programs without federal interference. We'll hear more about the bill in a moment. But first, "Arizona Horizon's" Washington D.C. intern, Nihal Krishan:, talked to an Arizona veteran and a state medical marijuana researcher who were at the capitol to rally for the bill.
Nihal Krishan: Phoenix veteran Kevin Spence: has struggled with chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder for years now.
Kevin Spence: I was strung out on morphine, I had lost every friend I had. I lost every family member I had. I couldn't hold a job. I became a hermit. I stayed inside my house for years.
Nihal Krishan: He said there's only one thing that truly alleviates his pain: Medical marijuana.
Kevin Spence: I always had a tightness, I was always real tight, you know, my neck, chest, all that stuff. You can just it just is so uncomfortable but when I smoked marijuana, that went away.
Nihal Krishan: That's why spense joined dozens of other veterans in D.C. to lobby for marijuana research and acceptance. They were joined by an Arizona doctor to support legislation like the cares act. It would permit veteran affairs doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for chronic conditions.
Suzanne Sisley: It's a Senate bill. It has a section in it that would eliminate these two barriers to marijuana research that we discussed. So if the bill passes, that means that suddenly it would open up for scientists the opportunity to finally embark on marijuana research and not be stymied all the time.
Nihal Krishan: She said if the government just let her conduct her research, she could prove marijuana's worth.
Suzanne Sisley: If there are rigorous studies like ours allowed to be conducted, that's very dangerous because that might uncover data, objective data, that verifies that marijuana actually has merit as a medicine.
Nihal Krishan: For veterans like spense, this research can't happen soon enough. He wants medical marijuana to touch other veterans-lives in the same way it's impacted his.
Kevin Spence: My wife and daughter both said I've got my husband back, and I've got my dad back. And those two things meant more to me than anything in the world.
Ted Simons: Here now to discuss the proposed law is Phoenix criminal defense attorney Bruce Feder. It's good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.
Bruce Feder: Thank you for having me.
Ted Simons: This is a compassionate access research expansion, respect states act here. In general, your thoughts?
Bruce Feder: My thoughts are number one, you have conservative Republicans, moderate and liberal Democrats all sponsoring the same bill. There should be a great celebration in the country that maybe our Congress can actually get together and get something done. That would be the first reaction. But the bigger reaction is this is a plus for patients who can use marijuana and its by-products to address some of their concerns, such as epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. It's hopefully a plus for the taxpayers where we can have the laboratories to try out new ways of governing and in this case they're going to try to get the federal government to stop interfering.
Ted Simons: And stop interfering by amending the controlled substances act?
Bruce Feder: They are going to do a couple of things. Number one the law, as I understand it, would prohibit the federal government from prosecuting people who are complying with state laws in those states that either have medical marijuana or legalization in place. And then number two, would change marijuana from a schedule one to a schedule two drug, which would free the medical community to start using marijuana in experiments to see if they can come up with cures for various types of ailments.
Ted Simons: Indeed but marijuana would technically remain illegal under federal law.
Bruce Feder: It would but chemicals that are on schedule two and three, four and five are used or are viewed as having some type of medicinal use and once they are in that category, it becomes much more of a regulatory response than an absolute prohibition.
Ted Simons: And as far as the research is concerned, I guess some more license areas of growing marijuana would be opened up by this bill, as well. So is that true?
Bruce Feder: Again, I don't understand it to open up any to force any state
Ted Simons: Yeah, I didn't mean force but there's only one now in Mississippi, maybe a couple more would open up somewhere around the country.
Bruce Feder: You mean to cultivate?
Ted Simons: Yes.
Bruce Feder: There's cultivation going on as I understand it in the states that have allowed medical marijuana.
Ted Simons: I think as far as research is concerned.
Bruce Feder: Oh, okay, I see what you're saying.
Ted Simons: The research aspect of this is big because right now, it just seems like the federal government is in charge and you've got to jump through 47,000 hoops to get there.
Bruce Feder: And the medical providers and professors of medicine and the people that could be experimenting with marijuana for medicinal uses are afraid of being involved in that because they're afraid that their licensing and those kinds of things would be in jeopardy.
Ted Simons: Will there still be a chilling effect do you think?
Bruce Feder: Less of one, until this gets processed out and people get some level of comfort.
Ted Simons: You mentioned, you inferred the point that no one's forcing. This law still if you have no medical marijuana program, you still have no medical marijuana program.
Bruce Feder: True. But I think it takes away one of the arguments from the states that do not have medical marijuana and legalization and that is that it's illegal under federal law and that would take away that argument in the sense that the proponents of it could point to the fact that it's now a schedule two drug. So I think it might free up some of those states to go in that direction.
Ted Simons: It sounds like easier access for veterans, as well. Talk to us about that.
Bruce Feder: Again, because the veterans hospitals are federally administered, the doctors in federal facilities are prohibited from prescribing medical marijuana. So if there's a veteran in Phoenix at the V.A. center here, unlike other people that can go to their doctors and get a prescription and get a medical marijuana card, the V.A., the vets, are prohibited from at least getting that from a doctor at the V.A.
Ted Simons: It would be only for certain conditions I would imagine?
Bruce Feder: Under Arizona state law, it's allowed for certain conditions.
Ted Simons: Are you surprised that this apparently, it's locked up now in judiciary committee and we don't know how locked up it is in the Senate. Are you surprised that this has happened, and it's gotten to this point?
Bruce Feder: I think a lot of people in this country have been concerned about gridlock in Washington and when you see rand Paul and Corey booker on somewhat opposite extremes of the political spectrum getting together to sponsor this bill, and now, more and more other house and Senate members also being cosponsors, gives one a little bit of hope that maybe we can actually work.
Ted Simons: And this is because as we've seen you know, from legalization to medical marijuana, the tide any reason from where you sit, do you know why that tide has turned? Is it just generational? Is it just time?
Bruce Feder: I'm sure I'm not sure. I assume it's generational. I think from a purely Republican standpoint, this is a libertarian issue of people being able to do what they want with their own bodies. It's also a cost issue. I think at some point legislatures and people that govern us look at the cost of prosecuting marijuana and maybe have come to their senses that that's not the best expenditure of our tax dollars.
Ted Simons: Well, we'll see where it goes. It's locked down in committee right now. It may not get out now but it sounds as though as we're saying it just seems like the train is on the tracks, and it's going to be hard to stop.
Bruce Feder: I hope it goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Ted Simons: All right. It's good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.
Ted Simons: Take care.
Ted Simons: Friday on "Arizona Horizon," it's the Journalists' Roundtable. We'll look at the governor's signing of a bill that could jeopardize the health insurance of over 200,000 Arizonans. And we'll discuss the governor's granting of a $700,000 tax reprieve to a state helicopter company. That's Friday on the Journalists' Roundtable. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.
"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.
Bruce Feder:Attorney, Phoenix;