WASHINGTON D.C.. 11 March, 2015 – Federal prohibitions on medical marijuana would end if a comprehensive bill introduced in the Senate on Tuesday becomes law. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, would amend the Controlled Substances Act to permit states to set their own medical marijuana policies without fear of federal interference by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) or other agencies.
introduced by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), the bill tackles the legal gray area surrounding medical marijuana several different ways. Described by Booker as a “common-sense bill to make medical marijuana accessible to the millions of Americans who could benefit from it,” the CARERS Act encompasses a wishlist of changes medical marijuana advocacy groups have fought for. These include:
- Protection from federal interference and prosecution — Businesses in compliance with state laws, where medical marijuana is legal, would no longer have to fear federal crackdowns and raids on licensed, legal dispensaries.
- Descheduling Low-THC strains Of cannabis — Cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC would be completely removed from CSA schedules, freeing patients to purchase low-THC medicines out-of-state, and permitting states to import these medicines if they do not yet allow in-state cultivation and distribution.
- Reclassifying cannabis on the CSA — Cannabis is presently classified as a dangerous Schedule I drug, alongside heroin and LSD, deemed as having no medical value and high potential for abuse. The bill would change the classification to a Schedule II drug — a classification use for drugs with an accepted medical use. The medical research community has supported this reclassification for many years, claiming research has been stymied by the senseless Schedule I classification of all cannabis, including nonpsychoactive strains (those that can’t get anyone high).
- Expanding medical research — the bill would remove the present requirement for a Public Health Service review of medical cannabis research applications and would also end the federal monopoly of cannabis sanctioned for research purposes (which is presently grown in the federal garden at the University of Mississippi). At least three other licensed sources for research-grade cannabis would be permitted.
- Expanding banking access for legal cannabis businesses
Despite the Treasury Department’s 2014 guidance, most banks will not provide services to cannabis-related businesses, citing the reporting burden and fears that federal regulators could crack down at any time. Businesses in the rapidly growing industry have been treated as quasi-legal pariahs, forcing them to trade in cash only and manage the commensurate security risks, payroll headaches, and tax challenges. The bill includes measures that will enable banks to treat legal cannabis-related businesses like any other customers.
- Lifting VA restrictions
Department of Veterans Affairs doctors are prohibited from prescribing or even discussing medical marijuana with patients, even in states where it is legal. The bill would lift the ban, enabling the VA to follow laws in their respective states.
To date, 23 states and the District of Columbia, have legalized medical marijuana, while 12 have passed legislation permitted low-THC cannabis to be used for treatment of intractable epilepsy. The CARERS Act would protect businesses and individuals acting in compliance with laws in their state.