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Twenty-three states have legalized medical marijuana and another 12 states have passed laws allowing access to low-THC strains to treat severe seizure disorders, but significant federal roadblocks often stand in the way of the full and effective implementation of these policies. Bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday would largely fix that.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rand Paul (R-KY), would reschedule marijuana, allow banks to provide financial services to state-legal cannabis businesses, lift restrictions on marijuana research, allow for the interstate importation of CBD-rich strains and allow V.A. doctors to recommend medical cannabis to military veterans, among other changes.

“We as a society are changing our opinions on restricting people’s choices as far as medical treatments,” Paul said at a press conference announcing the bill. “We don’t want doctors to be punished for simply trying to help people.”

While there were at least 15 separate pieces of marijuana reform legislation introduced in the U.S. House during the last Congressional session alone, this is the first time the U.S. Senate has considered a standalone bill concerning medical cannabis.

“I dare any senator to meet these patients here and say to them they don’t deserve the medicine their doctors prescribe,” Gillibrand said, of the patients who appeared with the lawmakers at the press conference.

The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act moves cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II, which is sure to disappoint some advocates who would like to see it moved to a lower schedule or removed from the Controlled Substances Act altogether. Keeping marijuana in Schedule I or II would still subject state-legal providers to Section 280E of the federal tax code, which prevents them from writing off expenses that any other business is able to.

The bill also removes marijuana that has less than 0.3% THC from the Controlled Substances Act, enabling CBD-rich strains to be imported across state lines.

Researchers are likely to welcome provisions of the legislation that lift bureaucratic hurdles they currently need to overcome in order to study the drug. Specifically, the bill ends the monopoly that the National Institute on Drug Abuse has on the supply of the drug for research by granting at least three additional licenses to organizations to cultivate cannabis. And it removes the Public Health Service Review for marijuana studies, an extra step that research on other drugs doesn’t have to go through.

At the press conference, Booker spoke of how the provisions in the bill concerning the Department of Veterans Affairs would help increase medical marijuana access for “our veterans who stood for us, who fought for us and who sacrificed for us and who are now suffering.”

Politically speaking, the bill is a huge deal. Rand Paul is widely assumed to be seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand are young Democrats who, by all accounts, likely have long political futures ahead of them. That this group of senators would team up on medical marijuana shows just how nonpartisan and noncontroversial the issue has become.

It remains to be seen whether Senate leadership will prioritize action on the bill or if it will languish in committee only to die a slow death.

One factor that might give the bill traction is the close relationship Paul has with his home state’s senior senator, Mitch McConnell, who also happens to be the Senate majority leader. If McConnell wants to help Paul position himself as a leader who can get things done across party lines in advance of the presidential race, bringing his medical marijuana bill to the floor and passing it would be a good way to do that.

Personal politics aside, enacting a medical marijuana bill that’s popular with voters across the country could help legislative leaders show the American people that Congress can still get things done every now and then, even during a time of partisan gridlock and deep cynicism.

http://news.marijuana.com/news/2015/03/new-senate-bill-would-end-federal-war-on-medical-marijuana/