Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect the States (CARERS) Act Introduced with Senators Booker, Lee, Paul, Murkowski, Gillibrand, and Franken
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Senator Al Franken (D-MN), and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), on Thursday, June 15, will introduce the newest iteration of a bipartisan medical cannabis bill in the Senate.
The Compassionate Access Research and Respect the States (CARERS) Act would protect users of medical cannabis who comply with state laws from unwarranted federal prosecution. The legislation would also greatly expand the opportunity for medical and scientific research on the uses and effects of medical cannabis.
“A permanent solution to the federal and state conflict is desperately needed for patients, doctors, and our economy,” explained Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). “If state rights are not protected, over two million patients could be left with only the illicit market to find their medicine.
“Without access to medical cannabis there would undoubtedly be an increase in Medicaid costs and opioid deaths, and a loss in workplace productivity,” Sherer said. “With the only protection for these states set to expire with the federal budget in September, a permanent solution to this conflict is urgent and necessary.”
‘Great Step in the Right Direction’
“The CARERS Act is an important piece of legislation to us in the state of South Carolina,” said GOP State Senator Tom Davis of South Carolina. “As we try to push forward more comprehensive medical cannabis legislation in our state, our lawmakers want assurance that we are in-step with federal laws.
“Providing us the ability to move forward without federal interference is a great step in the right direction,” Sen. Davis said.
Latest Iteration of CARERS Act
The CARERS Act of 2017 is the latest iteration of a bill by the same name introduced last session. While last session’s bill had significant bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, it failed to receive a hearing in any of the committees to which it was assigned.
With the additions of Senator Lee, a member of the Judiciary committee, and Senator Murkowski, along with the removal of two sections, the bill will likely receive more traction this year, according to many observers.
The bill removes cannabidiol (CBD) from the Controlled Substances Act; prohibits the Department of Justice from interfering with those complying with their state medical cannabis laws; removes some of the current barriers to cannabis research; and, allows Veteran Administration doctors to recommend cannabis in states where it is legal.
Banking Provision and Rescheduling Gone
Absent from this year’s bill, unfortunately, is a banking provision which would have fixed the Section 280E problem which prevents cannabis businesses from deducting business expenses.
Also absent from this year’s version of the bill is rescheduling cannabis to Schedule II. It would be vastly preferable, of course, to DE-schedule cannabis instead of putting it on Schedule II, which would effectively hand control of it over to Big Pharma.
“Several members” of the bipartisan group of sponsors reportedly expressed an unwillingness to support the bill with banking provisions or rescheduling included. The bill sponsors and advocates are optimistic that the stripped-down bill will garner more bipartisan support in the Senate.
“Current law means that even though my family and I live in a state where medical marijuana is legal, my twins’ pediatrician can’t discuss what kind or how much they should take,” said mom Shannon Moore, who helped found StopTheSeizures and pass her state’s medical cannabis law. “It also means research is suppressed on this medicine despite what we know about its medical benefits.
“The CARERS Act would help fix our broken marijuana laws and provide families like mine much-needed relief,” Moore said.Thirty states currently have comprehensive medical cannabis laws that conflict with federal laws. An additional 16 states have legalized access to the low-THC cannabis extract CBD and are also in conflict.
The CARERS Act comes at a critical time, with the nation facing an opioid crisis and medical cannabis showing great promise as a treatment for chronic pain. According to research, states with medical cannabis laws have witnessed a nearly 25 percent decrease in opioid overdose deaths.