Lindsey Graham’s Mind-Expanding Pot Journey

Article by James Higdon, Politico Magazine

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Eighteen months ago, three junior senators attempted something their chamber had never considered, much less accomplished—starting to roll back the long-entrenched federal ban on marijuana.

Though all first-termers, the senators—Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rand Paul of Kentucky—knew enough about the difficulties of marijuana politics to avoid any mention of full-scale legalization. They tailored the bill to focus narrowly on medical marijuana and the half-dozen stumbling blocks in federal law that have made it so difficult for Americans to get safe access to the increasingly popular drug.

They branded their bill with a clever acronym: the CARERS Act, for the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act of 2015, which, if passed, would do a number of sensible things: reclassify marijuana so that it is considered to have some medical value; permit banks to handle money from legal marijuana businesses; prevent the government from interfering with state-legal medical marijuana programs; exclude non-psychoactive marijuana extracts from the definition of marijuana; grant military veterans access to medical marijuana; and break the government’s monopoly on medical marijuana research.

To no one’s surprise, the bill went absolutely nowhere. But it didn’t die. Despite being ignored by leadership, it managed to collect 16 cosponsors by the end of 2015, a laundry list of mostly Democrats, two Republicans and an independent. Then, early this year, a 17th name was added, and a surprising one at that: Lindsey Graham.

The senior senator from South Carolina, an establishment Republican if ever there was one, a foreign policy hawk who ran for president this cycle in large part because he perceived Rand Paul’s isolationism as a threat to national security, Lindsey Graham—who represents a state that doesn’t even allow medical marijuana—has become one of the unlikeliest and potentially most influential of the bill’s backers because he is unique among the bill’s cosponsors (now at 20), as he’s the only one with a gavel.

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