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Senate Trio Launches Medical Marijuana Effort

Booker greets four-year-old Morgan Hintz. (Niels Lesniewski/CQ Roll Call)

It isn't every day that a child can steal the show from three of the Senate's most visible members.  

But that's what happened when Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York joined with Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky in unveiling legislation to reschedule marijuana to make it more available for medicinal and research purposes. Four-year-old Morgan Hintz had at least two minor seizures just during the course of the news conference around lunchtime Tuesday. Her mother Kate said the seizures were an almost daily regular occurrence, and that's what got her into advocating for expanded access to marijuana and its components for medical use.  

"As you can see, we don't travel very far or go for very long without Morgan having a seizure," Kate Hintz said. "We've been advocating for access to medical marijuana for almost two years now."  

While her mother spoke to the mix of press and cheering supporters, Booker was to the side of the podium, visiting with Morgan.  

According to a summary provided by Gillibrand's office, the bill would remove federal barriers to prescribing medical marijuana in states where it is allowed under state regulations.  

"The bipartisan bill would finally allow patients and families, including veterans, in those 23 states to access medical care without fear of prosecution. It also reschedules medical marijuana to a schedule two drug, as opposed to a schedule one drug," Gillibrand said. "It would also lift bureaucratic restraints so that this research can be conducted across the country and by CDC."  

"We as a society are changing our opinions on restricting people's choices as far as medical treatments, and there are thousands of people in our country, probably tens of thousands of people in our country who have diseases that are incurable and that would like to see palliative treatment," Paul told reporters, pointing to federal legal restrictions on marijuana for both personal and medical use.  

"I just came back from Colorado, and the biggest thing they're asking me is 'we want banking to be legal. We are legitimate enterprises now, we want to be able to put our money in a bank,'" Paul said. "My guess is that even more tax money would be paid if they're allowed to keep their tax money in banks and not brown bags."  

Tuesday's release of the medical marijuana legislation is the beginning of what could be a long legislative process, since the evolution of lawmakers on the issue has been slow. Paul's Kentucky colleague, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, did not have an immediate response to the new effort.  

But, a survey conducted by Third Way indicated overwhelming support for rolling back laws that limit access to medical marijuana.  

"It's time for Congress to catch up to the American people on marijuana. Our recent national poll found an overwhelming 78% of Americans favor legalization of marijuana for medical use, with support above 60% among every single demographic group, regardless of political ideology, race, education, marital status, or religiosity," Social Policy and Politics Director Lanae Erickson Hatalsky said in a statement. "That means even among Republicans, women, Southerners, parents, and those who have never tried marijuana, the belief that we should let people for whom marijuana provides relief from pain and symptoms of illness to use it legally is a commonly-held value."  

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