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Marijuana for public workers?

Legislation would address federal blockade for patients
A marijuana plant flourishes under grow lights. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet has co-sponsored federal legislation that would reschedule marijuana, allowing patients to access medical cannabis. The bill would potentially allow federal employees to use the drug.

DENVER – U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is co-sponsoring legislation that would reschedule marijuana, underscoring access to medical cannabis where it’s legal, and possibly easing restrictions for federal employees.

Workers would still be subject to agency and employer rules, which might continue to prohibit them from being able to partake, even if the bill is signed into law.

The legislation would prioritize state laws with respect to medical marijuana over federal laws, such as in Colorado, where both medical and recreational marijuana is legal. One of the hopes of the legislation is to encourage federal agencies to modify policies.

“In states where medical marijuana is legal, federal employees, like anyone else, would be able use it, pursuant to their agency or employer’s rules,” said Erin McCann, spokeswoman for Bennet. “The bottom line is that we should recognize states’ decisions on this issue and ensure that doctors and patients in pain can access medical marijuana without fear of prosecution.”

Guidance from the Office of Personnel Management on Wednesday concerning federal employees stated that even if employees live in Washington, D.C., or one of the 23 states that have legalized marijuana – a combination of recreational and medical laws – using cannabis remains prohibited. There are about 4.1 million federal employees and military personnel.

Known as the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, the bill would reschedule marijuana to recognize it has accepted medical use. It would allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies, without legalizing the drug nationwide. Veterans Affairs doctors would be able to prescribe medical marijuana.

“Colorado and dozens of other states have made medical marijuana legal for patients who are suffering,” Bennet, a Democrat, said in a statement. “It’s time for the federal government to respect and recognize these decisions by states for the benefit of patients across the country.”

Efforts around medical marijuana have turned into a bipartisan drive. Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Yuma announced legislation earlier this month that would exempt from the Controlled Substances Act low-psychoactive strains of marijuana used to fight seizures and other conditions. Bennet also supports that bill.

For patients, the issue is critical.

“As a patient, you can be taking all kinds of other medications, and that’s all well and good, but you choose this one and the job opportunities vaporize,” said Teri Robnett, founder and executive director of the Colorado-based Cannabis Patients Alliance, who uses medical marijuana for fibromyalgia. “As soon as you become a medical marijuana patient and make that choice, your job opportunities, your education opportunities, all kinds of things just start to disappear.”

pmarcus@durangoherald.com

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