New York, NY – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will speak today before the National Cannabis Industry Association Fall Business Summit to push for the bipartisan reform measures she introduced with Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY). While more than 40 states have legalized some form of medical marijuana, it is still prohibited under federal law.
The bipartisan Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, introduced earlier this year, takes on the challenges that have caused confusion among patients, doctors and families, stifled research and restricted legitimate medical marijuana businesses from accessing financing and banking services. In a lead editorial, the New York Times wrote: “The bill makes a number of important changes to federal marijuana policies – and it deserves to be passed by Congress and enacted into law.”
Excerpt from Senator Gillibrand’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
“After hearing the stories of patients – including my own constituents – I was baffled as to why it couldn’t be easier to help. As I learned more, the impediments became clear.
“First, there’s the lack of government-led medical marijuana research… No other drug, Schedule I or otherwise, has been subjected to the same constraints.
“Second, the conflict between state and federal statute is confusing doctors, patients and providers alike. People aren’t sure what’s legal and what isn’t, and the gray area that’s has resulted is hindering health care and the industry’s development.
“Third, is the very limited financial services available to medical marijuana businesses. These financial restrictions have prevented transparent financing, and have forced many to run dangerous, cash-only operations…
“Medical marijuana reform is not one-dimensional. We can’t pick just one of these challenges to address. A collaborative approach will solve more problems, help more people and create a better framework for reform. This is particularly important to understand for the future development of this industry…
“And, we cannot forget the stories that brought us here: the children and patients who are suffering because ideology is getting in the way of science. I hope that as we continue our conversation, it’s their interests that continue to be at the forefront of our work.”
Background on CARERS Act (S.683)
The bipartisan legislation was introduced in March by Senators Booker, Gillibrand and Paul, and now counts 15 co-sponsors. The Senate Narcotics Committee held a hearing on two components of the bill – CBD oil and research – over the summer. The bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee.
The legislation would do the following:
Allow States to Set Medical Marijuana Policy, Eliminate Potential Federal Prosecution
The CARERS Act amends the Controlled Substances Act so that states can set their own medical marijuana policies. The patients, providers and businesses participating in state medical marijuana programs would no longer be in violation of federal law and vulnerable to federal prosecution.
Reschedule Marijuana to Schedule II, Recognizing “Accepted Medical Use”
Marijuana is currently listed as a Schedule I drug, meaning it does not currently have accepted medical use in the United States. The CARERS Act moves it to Schedule II, recognizing what Americans already know: marijuana has a legitimate medical purpose.
Allow States to Import Cannbidiol (CBD), a Recognized Treatment for Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders
The CARERS Act amends the Controlled Substances Act to remove specific strains of CBD oil from the federal definition of marijuana. This would allow youth suffering from intractable epilepsy to gain access to the medicine they need to control their seizures.
Provide Veterans Access
Doctors in Department of Veterans Affairs facilities are currently prohibited from prescribing medical marijuana. The CARERS Act would allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans.
Permit Financial Services and Banking for Marijuana Dispensaries
Right now, the medical marijuana business is a cash business. The CARERS Act provides a safe harbor to banks and credit unions, their officers and employees that provide financial services to marijuana-related businesses that engage in activities pursuant to state law.
Expand Opportunities for Research
The CARERS Act removes unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles for researchers to gain government approval to undertake important research on marijuana. For example, cannabis samples for federally approved research is limited because there is currently only one licensed manufacturer. To increase sample supply, the bill would provide three additional licenses to increase the available supply of samples for research.
Support for Bipartisan CARERS Act
New York Times (3/11/2015): A Sensible Bill on Medical Marijuana
“The bill makes a number of important changes to federal marijuana policies — and it deserves to be passed by Congress and enacted into law…it would amend federal law to allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies and prevent federal law enforcement agencies from prosecuting patients, doctors and caregivers in those states… Polls show a majority of Americans in favor of legalization of medical marijuana. It is long past time for Congress to recognize the need to change course.”
Newsday (3/11/2015): The federal government should back off medical marijuana
“The federal government should back off medical marijuana. As New York prepares to roll out its program next year, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is working to make sure sick people in states whose laws allow them to use the drug won’t have to fear federal prosecution… In short, the legislation would bring federal law into line with the reality of what’s happening around the country.”
Journal News (3/11/2015): Feds must give N.Y. medical marijuana waiver
“Congress must pass legislation recently proposed by Gillibrand, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., that would ensure fair treatment for medical marijuana patients and providers.”
Comments from Families
“We are tired of seeing our government officials turning their heads and ignoring this issue,” said Kate Hintz, whose four-year-old daughter Morgan has an epilepsy condition known as Dravet Syndrome. “The fact is that many families are left with two choices — obtain treatment illegally and risk arrest or deny treatment and watch their loved ones suffer. To allow this to continue is unconscionable. I urge our nation’s senators to support this groundbreaking bill, and help us get our kids the medicine they need.”
“My daughter Olivia is four years old and has an extremely rare neurological disorder called Aicardi Syndrome,” said Polly VanderWoude. “Olivia has had seizures almost every day of her life, often multiple times a day. She has tried and failed a dozen pharmaceutical treatments, and we are hopeful that medical marijuana can offer her body and brain much needed relief from daily seizures. It is important to us that Olivia have legal and safe access to this medicine, under the guidance of her physician, and this bill is critical to eliminating outdated federal barriers to medical marijuana. I am deeply touched by Senator Gillibrand’s passion for helping families like ours, and I urge others in the Senate to sign this bill immediately.”
“Each time, we see our daughter seizing, we feel helpless at her side and terrified for her life,” said Dalila Kessaci, whose daughter three-year-old daughter Mellina suffers from a severe form of childhood epilepsy known as Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. “We are so thankful to Senators Gillibrand and Booker for giving us hope that one day our family and families across the country would not feel so powerless.”
“We are grateful that Amanda is with us today, despite the seizures that she suffers, often on a daily basis,” said Maryanne Houser, whose nine-year-old daughter Amanda has Dravet’s Syndrome. “We know that with Senators Gillibrand and Booker championing this effort on the federal level, she would have access to a medical marijuana that may well make the difference between life or death.”
“I am proud to stand alongside Senators Gillibrand and Booker to support their leadership in ending the federal ban on marijuana as a medicine,” said Paula Notari, whose daughter Emma was diagnosed with a rare form of severe epilepsy, Ohtahara’s Syndrome and passed away a few weeks after her birth. “No family should have to endure the loss of a child like we did with our precious Emma Rose.”