A bill was introduced in the United States Senate yesterday that, if passed, would significantly advance marijuana legalization in the United States. The bill is labeled as the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act of 2015, or CARERS. Does CARERS mean an armistice in the War on Drugs in the United States? Probably not. Even if passed, the law would apply only to medical marijuana.
The bill would move marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act to Schedule 2. This would mean marijuana will be reclassified from a drug with no accepted medical value to a drug that has some medical value. The statue would also codify the federal government’s existing practice of generally not penalizing the production, possession or distribution of medical marijuana when state laws are followed.
A rescheduling of cannabis would allow medical research on the plant to flourish. Right now, the only marijuana plants available for research in the United States are grown by the federal government in Mississippi. This bill would authorize three more farms and liberalize research. The rescheduling would allow doctors in the states that have legalized medical marijuana to legally prescribe it without fear of violating federal law. It would also allow pharmacies in the states that have legalized marijuana to dispense it without violating federal law.
This rescheduling could also however result in extensive federal regulation of the plant by federal agencies. Right now, federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) do not regulate marijuana or influence state regulations because of its classification as a Schedule 1 drug. Taking marijuana off Schedule 1 could result in voluminous federal regulations by an alphabet soup of federal agencies.
The statute would redefine marijuana by excluding low-THC, high-CBD cannabis. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound in marijuana that has proven effective in treating epilepsy, among other things. The press conference yesterday to announce introduction of the bill in the Senate featured a 4-year-old- girl suffering from seizures.
Provisions of the bill specifically address military veterans. Currently, doctors at the Veterans Administration are prohibited from prescribing medical marijuana to any of their veteran patients. The statute would allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states with legalized medical marijuana.
A significant part of the bill addresses banking in the medical marijuana industry and makes allowances at the federal level. The lack of access to normal banking services has been a huge obstacle to legitimate marijuana businesses. This statute would finally remedy this situation.
So, will this bill become law? The latest polling shows the majority of Americans favor legalization and the numbers for medical marijuana are even higher. Even conservative Republicans are starting to come around. But politics are politics, so it is hard to say. But one thing we all can and should do is write our senators to encourage them to pass this bill. The NORML website has set up a relatively easy method for doing this and we urge you to go there and do so.