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U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, speaks during a campaign rally announcing her candidacy for president in Waikiki, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia | Background: Yarygin/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Tulsi Gabbard wants Congress to completely lift federal marijuana prohibition

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WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — In Virginia, a father wants his son to have access to a CBD-based seizure medication during school hours.

In California, a kosher cannabis producer worries about the large amounts of cash he has to keep on hand to pay employees and vendors.

And in multiple states nationwide, dispensary owners spend thousands on security firms to guard their front door and monitor their on-site vaults, laden with cash they cannot take to a bank — because no bank will give them an account.

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All these problems within the cannabis industry can be traced back to one central cause: cannabis' designation as a Schedule I drug on the Controlled Substances List. That scheduling affects everything from pressure on banks to not open accounts or offer loans to operators within the cannabis industry, to schools that worry about the loss of federal funds should they allow students to receive cannabis-derived medications on school grounds.

In February, a bill was introduced to the U.S. Congress to fix the banking problem, and states like Virginia, Colorado and Washington have taken up legislation that would allow students to take doctor-prescribed marijuana products with them to school.

But U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has another solution: deschedule cannabis.

The Hawaiian congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate is set to announce a bill on Thursday to deschedule marijauna from the banned substances list. This bill is a reintroduction of legislation introduced in 2017, but Gabbard says this time around, things are different.

"Well, we're in the majority," said Gabbard, referring to Democrats. "And, you know, I think we're continuously seeing across the country more and more people becoming informed and educated about why it's essential for us to end this federal prohibition on marijuana for so many reasons."

"Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham are the two individuals who are most responsible for the perpetuation of the criminalization of marijuana in the 21st century."
Justin Strekal, NORML policy director

According to the Pew Research Center, more Americans are in favor of legislation that ends federal marijuana prohibition than ever before. A 2018 survey showed that 62 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal. In 2000, only 31 percent of Americans thought the same.

Gabbard says that descheduling marijuana will help open up more research opportunities, so that Americans have all the facts they need to make informed decisions about using cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.

"Too many people claim that there are no studies and no actual reports that exist," Gabbard explained. "So, this is our effort to ... provide the facts to people to make up their own decisions."

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According to the University of Colorado School of Medicine, the scheduling of marijuana on the banned substances list creates "a challenging environment for academic researchers who want to study health effects of cannabis."

And the University of California, San Francisco points out that "studying marijuana means navigating complex regulatory hoops, including reviews by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)."

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., does not believe, though, that the rescheduling should come before additional cannabis research. The physician-turned-congressman plans to introduce a bill soon that will open the door for better and more extensive research into marijuana, and wants Congress to hold off fully descheduling cannabis until more conclusive research has been done.

"Let's do the research. Once it's proven, let's — let's get it off Schedule 1," said Harris. "Not the other way around; not, 'Get it off Schedule 1, then let's do the research and hope we made the right move.'"

"Too many people claim that there are no studies and no actual reports that exist. So, this is our effort to ... provide the facts to people to make up their own decisions."
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii

Harris also points out that while the House of Representatives may now be controlled by Democrats, a descheduling bill will still have a difficult time moving forward.

"Did I miss something in the Senate?" Harris asked, with a laugh and a reminder that the other house of Congress is still controlled by the GOP. According to the congressman, legislation focused purely on descheduling may not even make it through the U.S. House.

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Justin Strekal, policy director at NORML, agrees with Harris that a descheduling bill has some hurdles to cross — especially in the upper chamber of Congress.

"The Republican party still controls the Senate," Strekal pointed out. The two gatekeepers of the Senate, he says, are Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. McConnell, Strekal said, explicitly said in 2018 that he does not intend to take up any marijuana reform legislation anytime soon.

"Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham are prohibitionists," said Strekal. "Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham are the two individuals who are most responsible for the perpetuation of the criminalization of marijuana in the 21st century."

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But, said Strekal, descheduling legislation is still key.

"By removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, it solves a lot of the issues that many of the more minor bills are attempting to address," he explained.

"There's a lot of other pieces of legislation that seek to deal with the financial provisions, how it impacts different small businesses, how it impacts veterans, all of which are very important," Gabbard added. "Our legislation, very simply, would solve all of those problems that ... those bills are trying to solve."

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