Medical Marijuana

Senators Pitch a Bill Legalizing Medical Marijuana in States That Allow It

The CARERS Act would eliminate federal interference with patients and providers.



Today three senators—Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)—introduced a bill that would amend the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) so that the federal ban on marijuana does not apply to people who grow, supply, or use the drug for medical purposes in compliance with state law. By eliminating the legal basis for prosecuting patients or their providers in the 23 states that allow medical use of marijuana, the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act would provide more protection than the Justice Department's prosecutorial forbearance or the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which says the DOJ may not spend money to prevent states from implementing their medical marijuana laws. 

The CARERS Act is the first bill introduced in the Senate that would legalize medical use of marijuana. "We need policies that empower states to legalize medical marijuana if they so choose—recognizing that there are Americans who can realize real medical benefits if this treatment option is brought out of the shadows," Booker says. "Doctors and patients deserve federal laws that are fair and compassionate, and states should be able to set their own medical marijuana policies without federal interference." 

That includes interference from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which prohibits physicians who work in its medical facilities from recommending marijuana to their patients. The CARERS Act lifts that restriction. "This opens up a line of communication that has not been available in the Department of Veterans Affairs," says T.J. Thompson, a Navy veteran who uses marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. "It allows us to openly discuss [medical marijuana] with our doctors, and it allows doctors to recommend medical marijuana in states that have decided to legalize it."

The CARERS Act also would expand access to cannabis-derived medicine by changing the CSA's definition of marijuana to exclude cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactice compound that shows promise as a treatment for epilepsy and other conditions. In addition to the 23 states that allow medical use of the whole plant, 12 states have approved CBD as a medicine, but patients there have trouble obtaining it because marijuana cultivation remains illegal. The CARERS Act would allow transportation of CBD from states that allow its production to states that allow its use.

Kate Hintz, a New Yorker whose 4-year-old daughter suffers from a severe form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome, notes that many families, upon hearing about the benefits of high-CBD marijuana for patients with drug-resistant epilepsy, "instantly packed up their belongings and headed to Colorado," where "they are known as 'marijuana refugees.'" She adds that "other families have begun to quietly travel back and forth, transporting medication across state lines to their children" and committing federal felonies each time they do. The CARERS Act would allow people to obtain this promising medicine without having to relocate or resort to legally perilous smuggling.  

Another change that the CARERS Act would make to the CSA is mainly symbolic, at least for now: moving marijuana from Schedule I, supposedly reserved for drugs that have no accepted medical use, to Schedule II, which includes medicines with a high abuse potential, such as morphine, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Rescheduling would not automatically make marijuana a prescription medicine, since any preparation doctors could legally prescribe still would have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But moving marijuana to a lower schedule would officially acknowledge the evidence that it is a safe and effective treatment for symptoms such as nausea, pain, and muscle spasms.

Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, says moving marijuana to Schedule II should be viewed as the beginning of a process that will require the federal government to re-evaluate marijuana's legal status, ultimately leading to cannabis-based medicines that doctors can prescribe. Suzanne Maria De Gregorio of the Parents Coalition for Rescheduling Medical Cannabis says even moving marijuana down one level could make hospitals and schools less reluctant to let patients use their doctor-recommended medicine and make the bureaucratic requirements for conducting research less daunting.

The CARERS Act would facilitate research in two other ways. It would eliminate the extra layer of review by the U.S. Public Health Service that is required specifically for studies involving marijuana, and it would instruct the Drug Enforcement Administration to license three sources of cannabis for research in addition to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIDA's monopoly on marijuana, a policy that does not apply to other Schedule I drugs, is a major barrier to research, forcing scientists to beg for supplies even after their studies have been approved by other agencies.

Another provision of the CARERS Act goes beyond medical marijuana by eliminating legal barriers to banking for state-licensed cannabusinesses. Borrowing language from the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2013, the bill would bar federal prosecutors and regulators from penalizing financial institutions for serving "marijuana-related legitimate businesses." It would also relieve banks of the requirement to file "suspicious activity reports" on such customers. "Cannabis-related businesses of all kinds would no longer face the dangerous and absurd situation of being denied basic banking services," says Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

"Almost half the states have legalized marijuana for medical use," says Michael Collins, policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's long past time to end the federal ban. This bipartisan legislation allows states to set their own medical marijuana policies and ends the criminalization of patients, their families, and the caregivers and dispensary owners and employees who provide them their medicine."

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  1. Will the drug warriors stand for rescheduling marijuana?

    1. AKA, will the REAL "drug lords" at the DEA, and other Fed LEO-types, PLEASE allow us peons to whittle down their empires just a WEEE tad? If we suck their butts REALLY HARD?!!?!?

  2. Can we *please* dispense (hee-hee) with the "medical" aspect of this?

    Yes, I know: "Baby steps".

    1. While I don't disagree because I see nothing wrong with marijuana being fully legalized (and any other mind-altering substance for that matter), I see the logic.

      It's a twofold strategy: 1) to make the masses comfortable with marijuana after many decades of it being demonized; and 2) to create a basis to argue that it does not belong on Schedule I, which is the biggest impediment to its legalization right now.

      1. One might argue that the essential goal of the strategy has been achieved.

        1. Maybe. Congress does not see it your way. I do not know of a state that has legalized MMJ through a normal legislative process yet. Congress will not come around until state legislatures are willing to openly support the legalization of marijuana, and they haven't even acquiesced on MMJ yet. Arizona had to legalize MMJ three times at the ballot box until the state government stopped fighting us.

  3. Any protection for recreational users in the states that legalize it? Of course not. But it's highly unlikely this modest proposal with make it through Congress, let alone signed into law by Obama.

  4. I'd support this, but I've sworn a blood oath against all cutely-acronymed bills. Sorry.

  5. The CARERS Act

    That is some cringeworthy branding.

    1. It took me a few reads to realize what it was saying. You don't see the word "carers" used very often to begin with (that may have been the first time I typed it in five years) and seeing it in all-caps is just weird.

    2. For the first few reads of the word, I assumed it said "CARRERS" and so I was waiting to see how this act would be justified as some silly jobs program.

  6. Up until today Yahoo has been featuring a Rand Paul interview with Katie Couric. The sidebar link lasted about a week. I think the fix is in.

  7. Yay rand paul! Did he sign the letter saying that his party would abrogate any negotiation with Iran? This is the peace candidate who wants to limit military adventurism abroad?

    Just for contrast here's an article from a senator who a.) doesn't see it as his duty to negotiate treaties and b.) doesn't want another fucking idiotic war in the ME.

    1. Yeah, he's just the senator that wants to completely screw up *this* country before moving on the fuck up the rest of the world.

    2. Re: American Stolid,

      Did he sign the letter saying that his party would abrogate any negotiation with Iran? [...] Just for contrast here's an article from a senator who a.) doesn't see it as his duty to negotiate treaties

      The Senate ratifies treaties, you direct result of the Amerikan Pulbic Skool Seistem Dat Teeches Kitz To Red an Writ Good.

      1. What never ceases to amaze me is how the Pauls take these stands on Constitutional grounds, and everyone around blathers on about whether the results are desirable. They have said over and over again that they care that treaty are ratified in the right way and that wars are only waged with the consent of Congress. But to a dimwit like AS, if you oppose the President's authority to make treaties without the Senate's consent, then you are also in favor of war with Iran. I guess that's what you call "framing the issue."

        The philosopher, Calvin (or was it Hobbes?), had a similar take on it.

        1. " I guess that's what you call "framing the issue.""

          Or it's known as the ignorant blatherings of a shitstain.

        2. You think I give two shits about the constitution written by slave owners? Use it for toilet paper, I say. The senate ratifies wars? Since when? Like WW2. You should tell that to my good buddy Sevo, who fought against the Cong so, you know, the Cong wouldn't wash up in L.A. or something.

          1. Listen to what Hihn said shit stain.

            When are you gonna pay your fucking mortgage, you lowlife moocher.

      2. Andz the executivez branch negotiatez them. Thatz whyz therez a statez department and 4 yearz electionz. If yer randz Paula wanza writ de treatyz maybees hez ya runz 4 de presyedenz and a telza us howya hez a newyas republican and ya libertarians and shitz-- as soonyas he's ya getz done droppings ya bombz on de badyas ayatollaz in Iranz.

        1. You've been had, dipshit , ride into the sunset with your tail between your legs, like anyone who sucks Stalin/Mao cock.

      3. Don't you mean American Stool, OM?

    3. Proper reaction to an AS post:

    4. american socialist|3.10.15 @ 5:39PM|#
      "Yay rand paul! Did he sign the letter saying that his party would abrogate any negotiation with Iran?"

      This from a fucking asshole who supports Stalin!
      Go away; you're boring.

  8. As much as I support the bill, this is taking the dumb-sounding euphamistic acronym-as-bill title to new lows. I don't think "carer" is even a word!

    1. I thought it was CAREERS and got really confused.

    2. I care, and people like me are "carers". Someone who cares the most is a "carest".

  9. Good for Paul, Booker, and Gillibrand. Nice to see bipartisanship actually working towards something good. Not that I think it will pass, but who knows. Maybe enough R's will remember federalism.

  10. What a classic example of never repealing bad laws! Instead of simply removing marijuana from all federal laws, they pass a never ending parade of revisions which only make things more confusing and convoluted.

    I sometimes think I'm a libertarian only because this kind of wastage just annoys the hell out of me.


  11. The Bill drops cannabis to schedule II. Plenty of work for the DEA chasing unauthorized supplies.

  12. yup one of the worse political acronyms. and obviously it should be legal across the board but a) again, baby steps and b) unless you're denying it's actual medical efficacy (in which case fuck you watch that sanjay gupta movie) im pretty sure having it available medicinally is a more important issue than recreationally.

  13. Incrementalism works for those who expand the power of the government. So I guess it might not be a bad idea for those of us who seek to take power away. The acronym is absurd, but some intern worked really hard to come up with it. Give them some credit.

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. We'd like to see whole scale repeal. But if some teeth can be pulled by amending legislation, then fuck it.

    As much as I hate the expression, I must repeat it: Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

  14. I wonder what whoever came up with that acronym was smoking?

  15. Well there are these ridiculous notions all the kids seem to bandying about these days regarding some juvenile bullshit involving "self ownership"or some equally preposterous fiction. I am sure they will outgrow it, someday..

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  17. I'll give Gillibrand a pass on this but this bitch still wants to throw male college students under the bus over her rape delusions. Fuck her.

  18. It only lifts restrictions on pharmaceutical companies...the rest of us be damned. Ironic it's the safest therapeutic substance known to man and big pharma likes to deal in deadly pills. And lets not forget the last time the feds tried to get involved in cannabis --NIDA INVENTED DEADLY SYNTHETIC 'MARIJUANA'.....

    And schedule II is no better a LIE than schedule I--cannabis is NOT HIGHLY addictive and needs to be removed from schedule -- IF we still believe in SCIENCE and 8,000 plus years of recorded human use.

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