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Marijuana momentum in Senate? Joint effort for reform adds GOPer

Republican Sen. Dean Heller has become the latest lawmaker to sign onto a groundbreaking bipartisan bill that would make medical marijuana legal nationwide.
A volunteer displays jars of dried cannabis buds. (Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
A volunteer displays jars of dried cannabis buds.

Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller has become the latest lawmaker to sign onto a groundbreaking bipartisan bill that would make medical marijuana use legal under federal law.

Is this a sign the bipartisanship is truly budding in this new Congress? Bad puns aside, a development like this would be unthinkable just a couple years ago. But clearly the political tide is turning when it comes to pot, with three states legalizing it for recreational use and several more embracing the drug for medical purposes.

RELATED: Bipartisan bill introduced for medicinal marijuana

“The time has come for the federal government to stop impeding the doctor-patient relationship in states that have decided their own medical marijuana policies. This bipartisan legislation puts Americans who are suffering first by allowing Nevada’s medical marijuana patients, providers, and businesses that are in compliance with state law, to no longer be in violation of federal law and vulnerable to federal prosecution," Heller said in a statement on Wednesday.

The bill which was unveiled earlier this week by its co-sponsors, Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker, as well as GOP senator and potential 2016 presidential hopeful Rand Paul, aims to make transport, access and financial backing of medical marijuana easier and less stigmatized.

Booker spoke to this very issue when he unveiled the bill on Tuesday. “Otherwise law-abiding Americans — bankers, business people, veterans, families — are fearful of unnecessary, expensive, life-disrupting investigations and prosecutions,” he said. “Today we join together to say enough is enough.”

The bill has received widespread praise from the drug policy reform community. And Heller's decision to join his fellow senators suggests there may be real momentum behind making medical marijuana legal nationwide.

“We applaud Sen. Heller for co-sponsoring this important legislation, and we hope to see more of his Republican colleagues join him as it moves forward. This bill reflects several Republican principles," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Rarely do you see a piece of legislation that is designed to protects states’ rights, respect medical choice, support our veterans, and promote tax fairness. Sen. Heller’s decision to sign on in support of this proposal demonstrates a growing level of support for marijuana policy reform within the Republican Party."

Medicinal marijuana is now legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, but the Drug Enforcement Agency currently classifies pot alongside substances like heroin and ecstasy. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act would, among other things, downgrade the status of medical marijuana.

“I look forward to working with Senators Booker, Paul, and Gillibrand on this legislation and to ensure states setting their own medical marijuana policies without federal interference becomes a reality,” Heller said Wednesday.