Barbara Boxer and Dean Heller Back Federal Legalization of Medical Marijuana in States That Allow It

The senators cosponsor a bill that protects patients and providers from federal harassment.


Office of Dean Heller

The CARERS Act, which would make the federal ban on marijuana inapplicable to people who comply with state laws allowing medical use of the plant, has attracted a couple of interesting cosponsors since it was introduced last week. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) signed on last Wednesday, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) joined him yesterday. Both represent states with medical marijuana laws.

Heller, who was known as a moderate when he served as a state legislator and Nevada's secretary of state, moved right when he represented Nevada's 2nd Congressional District, then moved left when he ran for the Senate in 2012. Announcing his support for the CARERS Act, he hit themes with appeal on the left and the right. "The time has come for the federal government to stop impeding the doctor-patient relationship in states that have decided their own medical marijuana policies," he said. "This bipartisan legislation puts Americans who are suffering first by allowing Nevada's medical marijuana patients, providers, and businesses that are in compliance with state law to no longer be in violation of federal law and vulnerable to federal prosecution."

Office of Barbara Boxer

Boxer has served in the Senate since 1993, three years before Californians approved Proposition 215, the first ballot initiative allowing medical use of marijuana. Boxer opposed that initiative, and in 2010 she opposed Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana for recreational use, although at the time her campaign manager said the senator "supports current law in California, which allows for the use of medicinal marijuana with a doctor's prescription." Last year Boxer voiced support for an amendment aimed at preventing the Justice Department from interfering with implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Her fellow California senator, Dianne Feinstein, opposed the measure. Boxer, who plans to retire when her term ends in two years, has never been as enthusiastic about the war on drugs as Feinstein, but neither has she been a vocal proponent of reform.

"Sen. Boxer represents the state that led the way on medical marijuana, and it's about time she took some action to defend the will of California's voters from federal interference," says Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell. "We would have expected her to do something on this years ago, but better late than never. A new generation of senators like Cory Booker, Rand Paul and Kirsten Gillibrand [the original sponsors of the CARERS Act] are leading the way on this issue, and it's nice to see that even some lawmakers who have been around for a while are starting to notice which way the political winds are blowing. This is a sign that the dam is about to break. Expect more old-school politicians to get on board soon."