Staff Columnist

Bipartisan marijuana bill holds unintended consequences

Two Iowa representatives sponsoring bill which would empower Jeff Sessions

U.S. Rep. David Young talks with people during a
U.S. Rep. David Young talks with people during a "Coffees for Iowans in Washington, D.C." hosted by the offices of Rep. Rod Blum, Rep. Dave Loebsack, and Rep. David Young in the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Mar. 21, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Politicians’ good intentions are threatening Americans’ medical freedom.

A federal bill known as the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States, or CARERS, Act is meant to protect states with medical marijuana programs, like Iowa. Yet some medical freedom advocates say it could end up doing the opposite.

The bill, which has support from at least two of Iowa’s federal lawmakers, would allow Americans to grow and process certain cannabidiol products in accordance with state law. That probably sounds like a good idea to the majority of Americans who support safe, legal access to medical cannabis.

However, the also bill defines cannabidiol as containing no more than .3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Iowa’s limit of 3 percent THC is 10 times that much.

States with higher limits could still be spared from federal enforcement, but the legislation would leave the attorney general to determine if state laws are “reasonably calculated to comply” with the law.

Carl Olsen is one of Iowa’s leading advocates and educators on marijuana policy, and the organizer of Iowans for Medical Marijuana. He recently criticized U.S. Reps. David Young, R-Iowa, and Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, for their cosponsorship of the CARERS Act.

“The first part says they’ll leave the states alone, but when it comes to cannabidiol, it authorizes the attorney general to get involved. … Why would Young support that, or even Loebsack?” Olsen told me this week.

The bill’s 26 co-sponsors include some true progressives and libertarians making an earnest attempt to improve our ineffective drug laws.


Yet while the legislation would be an improvement over current law, it’s not the best they can do. It leaves far too much power to current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has repeatedly demonstrated an outdated attitude toward drug enforcement.

During an anti-freedom tirade during a Senate hearing in 2016, Sessions — seated next to U.S. Sen Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa — infamously said “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” After he became the federal government’s top legal authority in 2017, Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidelines against federal interference with state programs.

No good bill would give Sessions more power to enforce drug laws. Luckily, a much better bill exists.

The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act is much simpler than the CARERS Act, at 136 words compared to 900. It would amend the Controlled Substances Act to protect people acting in compliance with laws governing marijuana. It is not exclusive to medical marijuana and does not create any new chemical limits or regulations.

That bill has drawn 45 bipartisan co-sponsors, including U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa.

For years, Congress has failed to protect states’ rights, while patients suffer. Iowa lawmakers could send an important message to their colleagues by dumping the overreaching CARERS Act, and supporting the common-sense Respect State Marijuana Laws Act.

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