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For first time, the Senate will consider legalizing medical marijuana

  1. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on Tuesday introduced a bill that would legalize medical marijuana at the federal level.
  2. The bill would reclassify marijuana in the federal scheduling system from schedule 1 to 2, which would force the federal government to acknowledge pot has some medical value for the first time.
  3. The bill would also permanently prohibit the federal government from shutting down medical marijuana operations in states where pot is legal for medicinal purposes.

The bill would eliminate federal restrictions on medical marijuana

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is one of three senators sponsoring the medical marijuana bill. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The bill is the first time in history the Senate will consider allowing medical pot, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.

A Senate aide, who walked me through the proposal, said the bill would prevent the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies from intervening in states' medical marijuana laws. Since states began enacting their own medical marijuana laws, the DEA has regularly raided and shut down state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries, because pot remains illegal for all purposes under federal law.

A spending deal attempted to end federal interference in December, but the provision in that deal wasn't permanent. Neither the spending deal nor the new bill prevents federal agencies from intervening with states' marijuana legalization laws, although the Obama administration has deprioritized the enforcement of pot prohibition in states where the drug is legal.

The Paul-Booker-Gillibrand proposal also goes further than the spending deal by reclassifying marijuana from schedule 1 to 2. Under schedule 1, the federal government considers marijuana to have no medical value and some potential for abuse. Under schedule 2, the feds would acknowledge marijuana has some medical value but a high potential for abuse. So the bill would force the federal government to acknowledge marijuana's medical value for the first time.

The legislation would also exclude CBD, a nonpsychoactive compound with medicinal properties that's found in pot, from the definition of marijuana.

The bill would also attempt to unlock more marijuana-related research. It would require the attorney general, acting through the DEA, to issue at least three licenses to FDA-approved research institutions for pot-related studies. And it would eliminate the Public Health Service review for marijuana research, which can sometimes add months or even years to a study's approval time.

The bill helps address some of the constraints brought on by the federal ban and marijuana's strict schedule in the 23 states (and Washington, DC) where pot is legal for medical purposes. Several professional groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have called on the federal government to reschedule marijuana to allow for more research into the drug to gauge its medicinal value.

Watch: Ezra Klein on the dangers of alcohol compared to marijuana