Six U.S. senators have reintroduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act (CARERS) to the Senate in the hopes of protecting state medical marijuana laws and patients from prosecution by the federal government. CARERS was originally proposed to Congress in 2015, but it failed to progress.
The revised proposal features several provisions to protect and help patients, as well as improve the ability to research and distribute medical marijuana. If it passes, it would also help secure medical marijuana’s future as a treatment option for numerous medical conditions.
The CARERS Act proposes moderate changes to federal law to ensure state rights are protected. The earlier, 2015 CARERS Act suggested more groundbreaking changes, such as removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and resolving federal banking laws which prohibit banks from accepting money earned by businesses through medical marijuana. It’s believed those changes are why it received minimal support from Congress.
The new, 2017 CARERS Act proposes the following changes:
The simplification of obtaining marijuana for research is a significant proposal, as it makes it easier for researchers to conduct their studies on medical cannabis. Without CARERS, researchers are limited to obtaining research-grade marijuana from the University of Mississippi and going through a lengthy application process, which can take a few years.
Modifying the Controlled Substances Act, which classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug, is another substantial proposal. Schedule I drugs are defined as having a high abuse potential and severe safety concerns, without any medical uses. The definition no longer applies to marijuana, as research has shown it’s an effective medicine for various conditions, yet it’s remained with an inaccurate classification.
The CARERS Act does not propose to change this classification, as it’s earlier form did. The bill would instead modify the Controlled Substances Act to allow states to create their own medical cannabis laws and prevent federal government agencies from enforcing their Schedule I marijuana classification. A budget amendment, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, provides a temporary protection from federal enforcement as of now.
While the proposals for changing how researchers obtain medical marijuana and modifying the Controlled Substances Act are significant, the removal of CBD and alteration of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ policies would have a substantial and positive impact on patients and doctors across the U.S. and in states where medical marijuana is legal.
CARERS would impact patients and physicians in two significant ways. One is by removing CBD from the Controlled Substances Act, and the other is by allowing Veterans Affairs doctors to prescribe medical cannabis.
States, such as Georgia, are CBD-only states, meaning CBD is legal to use, but it’s illegal to produce or distribute. Because of these states’ legislation, patients are left to find their own distributor, while in-state producers are at risk for raids or seizures by state and federal officials. By removing CBD from the Controlled Substances Act, it would then be legal for states to import CBD medical marijuana and give patients easier access to treatment.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs denies physicians from prescribing medical marijuana. Congress has attempted in the past to pass legislation to give veterans access to medical cannabis without success. If CARERS passes, it would allow doctors to discuss and prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, which can help treat PTSD and other conditions.
CARERS plays a vital role in the future of medical marijuana because it proposes to amend federal law and allow states, where medical marijuana is legal, to establish their own policies regarding medical cannabis’ use, distribution and research.
While many states have already legalized medical marijuana and created programs for its use, the Controlled Substances Act overrules those laws. Per the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is compared to heroin, and whether it’s medicinal or recreational, marijuana is illegal to:
The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment has protected patients, doctors, distributors and producers from the federal government enforcement by preventing the Justice Department from using government funds to interfere in the application of state medical marijuana laws.
The amendment was introduced in 2014 and has been renewed since then in federal budget bills, but due to the Trump Administration’s and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session’s antic-medical cannabis stance, there’s concern over whether the amendment will be renewed in September. If the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment expires, statements from Sessions indicate he will take action against medical marijuana.
CARERS’ importance and influence on the future of medical cannabis is substantial because it’s a bill — meaning, if it passes, it becomes law and does not require continued renewal, as with the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment. By protecting state legislation and patients from federal interference, as well as declassifying CBD, CARERS helps solidify medical marijuana’s future as an effective treatment method and grants more patients, like veterans, access to this medicine.
Medical cannabis helps people every day with their pain and symptoms resulting from an injury or severe medical condition, like multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease or fibromyalgia. The CARERS Act ensures you and your loved one continue to have safe access to medical marijuana, without fear of legal action. It’s a significant bill that will have a long-term impact on medical cannabis and its availability to people across the U.S.
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