Republicans and Democrats come together to sponsor new medical marijuana bill

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A UNC student lights a joint filled with marijuana as part of a photo illustration. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, co-sponsored a bill that would legalize medical marijuana. 

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, along with four other Republican and Democratic senators, co-sponsored the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act of 2017. 

The legislation, introduced Sept. 13, seeks to ease the process of conducting scientific research on the use of marijuana as a medical treatment. The North Carolina General Assembly has already considered the use of cannabinoids, substances extracted from marijuana. The act would expand marijuana research.

Tillis said in a press release the act is a common-sense bipartisan effort to remove unnecessary barriers and will give scientists the ability to study the biochemical processes, impact, dosing, risks and possible benefits of cannabidiol and other components of the marijuana plant.

"When it comes to our nation's efforts to cure diseases and improve the quality of life for people suffering from ailments, burdensome government regulations shouldn't be an impediment to legitimate and responsible medical research," he said. 

Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said he is excited to see this new legislation supported by such prominent Republican senators. 

“(This is) yet another demonstration of the growing bipartisan consensus that we need to address our federal marijuana laws and end the prohibition of marijuana and move us closer to sensible policies that don't treat marijuana consumers like second class citizens,” he said.

Strekal said the issue he sees with current marijuana policy is the tension between federal and state policy. 

“If a doctor believes that marijuana needs to be incorporated into a treatment program, then that doctor should be able to lawfully do so,” he said. 

According to NORML's website, 29 states have legalized medical marijuana, but only 22 have implemented a program to allow doctors to prescribe it. Seven states have passed laws allowing medical marijuana but haven't implemented a program yet.

Carla Lowe, founder and co-chairperson of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, said marijuana is not a medicine.

"It was always marketed as a medicine, but the intention was that it would be the red herring to give marijuana a good name," she said. "It's not an FDA-approved drug."

Lowe said there are some components of the cannabis plant that have potential for good.

"(For now), it's not a medicine, and it's the cause for all the problems we're facing in California," she said. 

Strekal said marijuana needs to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act to ensure that we no longer discriminate against doctors' abilities to decide health care treatment programs for their patients. 

"If a doctor believes that marijuana needs to be incorporated into a treatment program, then that doctor should be able to lawfully do so and that patient should be able to have access to high quality and affordable marijuana that will alleviate their suffering," he said. 

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