Jacob Sullum on the Senate's First Medical Marijuana Bill



Last week Georgia's legislature overwhelmingly approved a bill that allows people suffering from certain medical conditions, including epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, to treat their symptoms with cannabis oil that is low in THC but high in cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactive compound with considerable medical promise. But like the CBD laws adopted by 11 other states, Georgia's bill, which Gov. Nathan Deal says he will sign, does not legalize production or sale of the medicine it permits patients to take. In fact, it says anyone "who manufactures, distributes, dispenses, sells, or possesses with the intent to distribute low THC oil shall be guilty of a felony" punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The bill does allow registered patients and their caregivers to possess up to 20 fluid ounces of CBD oil, but they will have to get it somewhere outside of Georgia and commit a federal felony by bringing it home.

A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on March 10 and in the House on Tuesday would address that problem by decriminalizing transportation of CBD oil from states that allow its production to states that allow its use. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act also would help patients in the 23 states that allow medical use of cannabis itself. The bill, which has bipartisan support, would amend the Controlled Substances Act so that the federal ban on marijuana does not apply to people who grow, distribute, or use the drug for medical purposes in compliance with state law. Since this is the first time a bill legalizing medical marijuana has been introduced in both houses of Congress, Jacob Sullum says, the CARERS Act could represent a turning point in the national debate about this much-maligned plant.