WASHINGTON D.C. – It’s not the first time Congress has considered a bill to legalize medical marijuana nationally. But this time the Compassionate Access Act was submitted on Tuesday to a Congress facing a rapid evolution in public opinion about cannabis. For the first time in forty years, a majority of American voters support full legalization of cannabis, 53% according to a Pew Research poll (March 2015). 77% believe cannabis has medical benefits, and the same poll found 69% of Americans consider alcohol more harmful to health than marijuana.
State legislatures have not sat on their hands, waiting for the Feds to catch up with voter sentiment. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia permit medical marijuana for various conditions. Over the past year, 13 states have enacted CBD-specific laws, inspired by the story of Charlotte Figi, whose parents used a cannabis oil that controlled her severe epileptic seizures. A campaign initiated by Charlotte’s family and others has snowballed into legislation in many states otherwise opposed to legalization.
Backed by conservative Republicans and blue dog Democrats who have long opposed medical marijuana, most state CBD-specific bills provide an affirmative defense that protects people who use CBD-rich products for a narrow range of conditions. However, it remains difficult for residents of CBD-only states to obtain CBD-rich oil legally – most states have made no provision for legal in-state access to the medicine patients need. Critics point out that most medical marijuana patients are not adequately served by CBD-only laws. They need access to a wide spectrum of whole plant cannabis remedies, not just low THC medicine.
The new federal bill aims to amend the Controlled Substances Act, switching cannabis from Schedule I on the list of dangerous drugs to Schedule II. The change would allow the medical community to prescribe and dispense strains with high cannabidiol or CBD and minimal THC content without risking federal prosecution. The bill has support from the Epilepsy Foundation and the American Academy of Neurology, both of which want cannabis made available to patients and seek removal of federal barriers that prevent research.
While there are no published studies to support its use, as yet, anecdotal evidence suggests that CBD can reduce or eliminate seizures, especially in children. A pharmaceutical version of CBD oil, called Epidiolex, is currently being tested in clinical trials.
The Compassionate Access Act, was submitted by Congressman Morgan Griffith, a Republican from Virginia, and Congressman Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, who hope to obtain bipartisan support for its passage.