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A bipartisan group of senators and representatives have reintroduced legislation that would enable states to set their own medical marijuana policies.
That is at odds with a letter U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent to congressional leaders, in which he asked that federal medical marijuana protections be reversed.
Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., joined by Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., made the announcement on Thursday. Booker addressed the Sessions letter, saying the Attorney General “misrepresents the facts” on medical marijuana.
“I dare him to sit down with families and listen to their stories and then pursue a policy like he’s advocating for now,” the New Jersey senator said.
In the letter, which was sent in May but released on Monday, Sessions asked that Congress not inhibit the Justice Department’s ability to enforce the Controlled Substances Act.
Saying the nation is in the midst of a “historic drug epidemic,” Sessions sought to make a case for using federal funds to crack down on state medical marijuana laws. The 2014 Rohrabacher-Farr amendment currently prevents the Justice Department from doing this.
The legislation reintroduced Thursday would protect patients, doctors and businesses participating in state medical-marijuana programs from federal prosecution.
The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act would not legalize medical marijuana in all 50 states. Instead, it would ensure that people in the states where medical cannabis is legal can use it without violating federal law.
In addition to Booker and Gillibrand, co-sponsors of the CARERS Act include Senators Rand Paul, R-Ky., Mike Lee, R-Utah, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Al Franken, D-Minn.
Patients and parents who rely on medical marijuana also attended the press conference. Jennifer Collins, a 17-year old Virginia resident, spoke about how medical cannabis helps control her epilepsy.
“People worry that medical cannabis is a gateway drug,” Collins said. “We know that’s not true. And for me, medical cannabis has been a gateway to a better life.”
Gillibrand said the growing acceptance of medical marijuana among the public makes her hopeful that the law will continue to gain bipartisan support. She credited personal stories from those who have benefited from medical cannabis as the reason for the shift in public opinion.
“These stores are the difference, because when you talk about how it affects your child and how their lives are so significantly better, it’s irrefutable,” Gillibrand said. “It is so compelling. I believe things are changing and they are changing fast.”