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Details About The Newly Introduced Senate Medical Marijuana Bill

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federal medical marijuana billToday three United States Senators introduced a bipartisan medical marijuana bill (Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY)). This is the first time in United States history that a bill like this has ever been introduced in the United States Senate. Tom Angell from the Marijuana Majority had the following to say about the bill:

“This comprehensive proposal would effectively end the war on medical marijuana and let states compassionately provide care for seriously ill people without the federal government standing in the way. The fact that two young Democrats with likely long political futures have teamed up with a probable 2016 Republican presidential candidate shows how medical marijuana is a nonpartisan, noncontroversial issue that draws support from across the spectrum. With polls showing an overwhelming majority of American voters backing marijuana reform, you’d think taking up this proposal would be a no-brainer for legislative leaders who want to show that Congress can still get things done.”

And from my friends at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition:

Today, a comprehensive bipartisan medical marijuana legalization bill was introduced to Congress that would prevent federal law enforcement agencies from interfering in state medical marijuana laws. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act would recognize marijuana’s medical validity by rescheduling it from Schedule I (no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse) into Schedule II (some medical value and high potential for abuse). This would allow banks greater freedom to provide financial services to state-legal medical dispensaries, improve transportability of the drug, and open doors for scientific research. Currently, medical marijuana patients, dispensary owners and cultivators are still in violation of federal law, and could be subject to federal prosecution. This has remained an obstacle for many other states that would otherwise be considering similar policies.

“Whether patients have safe access to medicine is a public health issue, not a criminal justice one,” said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a law enforcement group opposed to the war on drugs. “If this bill passes many patients who could benefit from medical marijuana will no longer have to forego treatment for fear of arrest, be considered criminals for obtaining necessary medication, or put themselves in danger by accessing a dangerous unregulated market. We would never put underground drug dealers in charge of selling chemotherapy drugs or antidepressants, and we shouldn’t be putting them in control of marijuana either.”

If passed, the CARERS Act would adjust banking regulations so that financial institutions could provide banking services to marijuana businesses operating in accordance with state law. This has been a major obstacle, forcing dispensaries to operate as cash-only businesses, creating serious logistical problems and opening them up to all sorts of security concerns.

The bill would also remove a requirement that the Department of Health and Human Services do a public health service review before approving studies and end the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s current monopoly on marijuana research by allowing for at least three more research licenses to be granted. Overwhelming anecdotal evidence – and what little domestic research that has been approved – clearly support the medical efficacy of marijuana, but because research is rarely permitted for Schedule I substances, the scientific community has been unable to fully and accurately assess its effectiveness for specific conditions in controlled settings. If passed, the bill would also permit VA doctors to recommend marijuana to their patients who often suffer from combat related depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The State of Colorado recently awarded $2 million dollars to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies for research into the effects of marijuana use on veterans with PTSD.

Finally, it would allow states to import CBD products, which contain a powerful compound found in marijuana that reduces the incidence and severity of seizures in epileptic patients. Twelve states currently have laws allowing for some form of access to CBD, though these laws are not generally considered full “medical marijuana laws” because CBD as an extracted substance has fewer applications than medications using the whole plant. They remain attractive to some policymakers, however, because they exclude THC, a psychoactive but medically useful cannabinoid.

Last year, President Obama signed into law the federal “Cromnibus” spending bill, which includes a provision that prevents the Department of Justice from using its money to create barriers for medical marijuana laws and legally operating dispensaries in those states where it is legal. In addition to the dozen states that allow CBD use, twenty three states and the District of Columbia allow some degree of medical marijuana access, and many more state legislatures are considering such measures as well.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is committed to ending decades of failed policy that have fueled dangerous underground markets and gang violence, fostered corruption and racism, and largely ignored the public health crisis of addiction, all while spending more than a trillion dollars diverting the penal system’s attention away from more important violent crimes.

And from Americans for Safe Access:

Comprehensive medical marijuana legislation was introduced today in the US Senate for the first time in the country’s history. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act to end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana and allow states to set their own policies. The CARERS Act is endorsed by several advocacy groups including Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which helped Senate authors develop the legislation.

The CARERS Act will reclassify marijuana for medical use, overhaul the banking laws so as not to punish licensed businesses, allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, and eliminate current barriers to research. Currently, twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have adopted medical marijuana laws, and another twelve states have adopted laws allowing for the consumption of a specific form of cannabis known as Cannabidiol or CBD commonly used to treat seizure disorders.

Despite the passage of medical marijuana laws in more than half of the United States, it remains illegal under federal law. Because of this, qualified patients who use medical marijuana in compliance with state law are still at risk of federal enforcement, as are dispensary owners and government regulators. Families with children suffering from severe epileptic seizures are forced to relocate or travel long distances to get treatment for their loved ones, and are vulnerable to arrest for doing so. Lawful medical marijuana businesses are currently prohibited from accessing banking services and forced to operate on a cash-only basis, causing numerous public safety issues. Furthermore, veterans are routinely prevented from using medical marijuana in conjunction with PTSD or pain medication.

“The CARERS Act is groundbreaking for its unprecedented introduction by Senators Paul, Booker, and Gillibrand, for the scope of protection it would offer to qualified patients, and for significantly increased research opportunities,” said ASA Government Affairs Director Mike Liszewski. “We look forward to working with the US Senate to ensure passage of this important legislation.”

Hundreds of patient advocates are expected to gather in Washington, DC for a lobby day on Tuesday, March 31st as part of ASA’s third annual Unity Conference. US Senators have never had to take a public position on medical marijuana issues, but the ASA lobby day focused on the CARERS Act will provide a unique opportunity for patient advocates to play a role in shaping those positions.

The CARERS Act is being introduced just months after Congress passed Section 538 of the Appropriations Act, a one-year spending provision that prohibits the Department of Justice (DOJ) from using its funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. This bill goes further by codifying that change and preventing any federal agency — not just DOJ — from interfering with the implementation of state laws.

The CARERS Act is a composite of current and soon-to-be-introduced House legislation. Specifically, the bill will amend the Controlled Substances Act to explicitly allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies without violating federal law. The CARERS Act will reclassify marijuana from its current Schedule I status as a dangerous drug with no medical value to Schedule II. The bill will also change federal law to allow banks to provide financial services to licensed businesses, allow Veteran Affairs physicians to recommend medical marijuana to their patients, and enable CBD to be imported to states that have legalized its use. The CARERS Act will also remove bureaucratic barriers to research and break the current monopoly on the production of research-grade marijuana.

And the Drug Policy Alliance:

Today, Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced the introduction of legislation to legalize marijuana for medical use. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States – CARERS – Act is the first-ever bill in the U.S. Senate to legalize marijuana for medical use and the most comprehensive medical marijuana bill ever introduced in Congress. The CARERS Act will do the following:

  • Allow states to legalize marijuana for medical use without federal interference
  • Permit interstate commerce in cannabidiol (CBD) oils
  • Reschedule marijuana to schedule II
  • Allow banks to provide checking accounts and other financial services to marijuana dispensaries
  • Allow Veterans Administration physicians to recommend medical marijuana to veterans
  • Eliminate barriers to medical marijuana research.

“This legislation is a game-changer,” said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. “It is worth noting that Senators with a national profile are championing this issue. Ending the war on medical marijuana is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.”

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have laws that legalize and regulate marijuana for medicinal purposes. Twelve states have laws on the books or are about to be signed into law by their governors regulating cannabidiol (CBD) oils, a non-psychotropic component of medical marijuana which some parents are utilizing to treat their children’s seizures. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for non-medical use.

Last year, the Republican-controlled House passed an amendment to a spending bill prohibiting the Department of Justice from undermining state medical marijuana laws. This amendment was backed by Sens. Rand Paul and Cory Booker and made it into the final “cromnibus” bill that was signed by President Obama in December. Unfortunately the amendment expires at the end of this fiscal year, making legislation like the Paul-Booker-Gillibrand CARERS Act essential.

The House also passed four other amendments last year letting states set their own marijuana policies, but those amendments never made it into law. Polls show roughly three-quarters of Americans support legalizing marijuana for medical use. A little more than half of voters support legalizing marijuana for non-medical use, in the same way alcohol is legal, taxed, and regulated.

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