A Senate Bill introduced on March 10, 2015 would amend federal law that conflicts with state laws legalizing medical marijuana. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, S.683, was introduced by a bipartisan trio of senators: Senator Corey Booker (D-N.J.), Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
The centerpiece of the CARERS Act is a reclassification of marijuana as less dangerous drug under federal law, with acknowledged therapeutic purposes. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), marijuana is presently categorized as a Schedule I drug along with other substances like heroin, LSD, and peyote, which are deemed to have the highest potential for abuse and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” 21 U.S.C. § 812(b)(1)(B). The legislation would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, which would be an acknowledgement under federal law that marijuana “has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions.” 21 U.S.C. § 812(b)(2)(B). Also, the CARERS Act would amend the CSA to allow states to establish their own medical marijuana policies, so that patients, medical providers, and others participating in state medical marijuana programs will not be in violation of federal law and subject to potential federal prosecution.
Additionally, the CARERS Act addresses a number of other important issues relating to medical marijuana. The Act would amend the CSA to remove certain strains of CBD (Cannabidiol) oil from the federal definition of marijuana under the CSA Schedules, which would allow states to import CBD where allowed under state law. CBD, a non-psychotropic component of medical marijuana, is used by some families to treat epilepsy in their children.
The CARERS Act includes provisions that would expand access to banks and credit unions for medical marijuana business so that they are able to function like traditional businesses using banks and credit unions for revenue deposits, payroll, and other financial transactions. Because of banks’ concerns for liability under federal money laundering statutes, many marijuana related businesses have been unable to establish regular banking relationships, and as a result have been forced to operate as cash-only businesses. This has created a host of potential problems, including tax and employee payroll issues, for these businesses and the states in which they are located, as well as the potential for robberies and violent crimes directed at such businesses and their employees.
Under present law, doctors working under the Department of Veteran Affairs are prohibited from assisting patients seeking medical marijuana, even in states where it is legal. The CARERS Act would allow for VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans suffering from certain conditions, in those states where it is legally available.
Finally, the CARERS Act would also expand opportunities for further medical research on marijuana. The hope is that with additional research, additional medical uses might be discovered.
Whether the CARERS Act ultimately passes or not, its introduction in and of itself is an historic development. Such a proposed law in Congress was unimaginable a generation ago or less. The CARERS Act is a clear sign of the widespread change in the perception of medical marijuana in the United States.