June 15, 2017

Senators Reintroduce Bipartisan Medical Marijuana Bill

CARERS Act would ensure patients have access to lifesaving care without fear of federal prosecution

Washington, DC – Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Al Franken (D-MN), and Mike Lee (R-UT) today reintroduced a bipartisan bill that would allow Americans to access medical marijuana in states where it is legal without fear of federal prosecution. In announcing the reintroduction, the Senators were joined by patients who had received life-changing treatment from medical marijuana.

The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act would amend federal law to allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies. The bill would also permit doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to veterans to treat serious injuries and chronic conditions. When the CARERS Act was originally introduced last session of Congress, it was the first medical marijuana bill ever to be introduced into the U.S. Senate.

The legislation does not legalize medical marijuana in all 50 states; rather, it respects the states’ decisions to legalize medical marijuana and prevents federal law enforcement from prosecuting patients, doctors, and caregivers in those states.

“No parent should ever have to watch their child suffer through hundreds of seizures a day, only to be told by the federal government that they aren’t allowed to use medicine that could help relieve their children’s suffering,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Unfortunately, under our current federal laws, even if a state has decided for itself that patients should have access to medical marijuana, the federal government can still come in and prosecute patients for using that medicine. We must change this. The CARERS Act would finally get the federal government out of the way and let families in states where medical marijuana is already legal access this medicine without fear of federal prosecution. I am proud to fight for the children and families who desperately need this medicine, and I urge all of my colleagues to put scientific progress ahead of outdated ideology and support this bipartisan bill.”

“Federal policy in this space has long overstepped the boundaries of common sense, fiscal prudence, and compassion,” said Senator Booker. "This bill will help ensure that people who can benefit from medical marijuana – children, the sick, and our veterans – can do so without worrying about the federal government standing in the way.”

“For far too long, the federal government has enforced unnecessary laws that have restricted the medical community’s ability to determine marijuana’s medicinal value and have prohibited Americans from receiving essential care that would alleviate their chronic pain and suffering,” said Senator Paul. “Our bill respects the will of the people, applies the principles of federalism to our nation’s drug policies, and will have a positive impact on the lives of our Veterans and children.”   

“There remains a conflict between state marijuana laws and federal marijuana laws across the board and this legislation aims to rectify that.  This is especially urgent in the medical marijuana arena given the Justice Department’s active effort to derail annual appropriations provisions prohibiting federal interference with medical uses of marijuana authorized under state law,” said Senator Murkowski. “I believe that the federal government has no place in undermining the effective administration of state marijuana laws.”

“There is no valid reason for the federal government to prosecute medical marijuana cases in states where it is a legal treatment—but right now, that’s a major fear of patients, doctors, and providers,” said Senator Franken. “Our bipartisan and bicameral bill would ease that fear by giving many Americans who are suffering from painful, chronic diseases, safer access to the treatments they need. I hope that we can come together to quickly pass this legislation into law for them.”

“Americans deserve the best information when making medical decisions,” said Senator Lee. “That is why I am proud to support the CARERS Act, a bill that will open up a path for scientists to research how marijuana affects the human body and allows states to regulate medicinal marijuana for their citizens.”

“The consensus on medical marijuana is overwhelming and bipartisan, yet our federal drug laws continue to treat patients and the doctors and families who care for them like criminals,” said Congressman Cohen. “According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, 93 percent of Americans believe people should be allowed to use medically prescribed marijuana. Our bill would bring the federal government in line with the American people by allowing states to set their own marijuana policies, allowing patients and veterans to receive the treatments they need from their doctors, and improving opportunities for research on marijuana. I am pleased to join with Congressman Don Young and Senators Cory Booker, Rand Paul, Kirsten Gillibrand, Mike Lee, Al Franken and Lisa Murkowski in introducing this bipartisan, bicameral legislation.” 

“I’m proud to join this distinguished group of lawmakers – from both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol – to reintroduce the CARERs Act,” said Congressman Young. “Since the Alaskan people first legalized marijuana, I’ve heard from my constituents who have experienced the many challenges associated with the conflicts between State and Federal laws – including business owners who are prevented from using the banking system and tax code, veterans who cannot access alternatives to opioids, and even the State which has run into problems collecting tax revenues. The CARERS Act is a broad piece of legislation that works to solve many of these problems. As a co-founder of the House Cannabis Caucus and passionate supporter of this issue as a matter of states’ rights, I look forward to working with all stakeholders in order to move this legislation.” 

“My 6-year-old daughter Morgan was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, a form of severe epilepsy that does not respond well to medications and has suffered from hundreds of uncontrolled seizures in her life. None of the dozens of pharmaceuticals ever provided her much relief. We started using CBD oil and after using it for a few months Morgan successfully went over 2 months seizure free. The sponsors of this bill have been so compelled by these kinds of stories that they chose to speak out and represent our rights here in Washington. I cannot express how much their support means to our family,” said Kate Hintz of New York, who spoke at the press conference and whose daughter uses medical cannabis to treat a rare form of epilepsy.

“The CARERS Act would protect patients like me,” said 17 year-old Jennifer Collins of Fairfax, Virginia, who spoke at the press conference introducing the bill. Jennifer uses medical cannabis to treat her epilepsy. "Medical cannabis has reduced my absence seizures, eliminated my grand mal seizures, and enabled me to be almost completely off the pharmaceuticals that made me suffer so many horrible side-effects. It gave me my life back.”

“Current law means that even though my family and I live in a state where medical marijuana is legal, my twins' pediatrician can't discuss what kind or how much they should take," said Shannon Moore, of Maryland, who spoke at the press conference and whose young twins use medical marijuana to treat a rare and severe genetic disorder. "It also means research is suppressed on this medicine despite what we know about its medical benefits. The CARERS Act would help fix our broken marijuana laws and provide families like mine much-needed relief.”

“As medical marijuana comes under attack from Jeff Sessions, this legislation is more essential than ever,” said Michael Collins, Deputy Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The time is now for Congress to pass legislation to protect patients, providers, and veterans.”

“A permanent solution to the federal and state conflict is desperately needed for both patients and the economy,” said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access. “If state rights are not protected, over two million patients could be left with only the illicit market to find their medicine. There would undoubtedly be an increase in Medicaid costs and opioid deaths and a loss in workplace productivity. With the only protection for these states set to expire with the federal budget in September, a permanent solution to this conflict is urgent and necessary.”

Currently, 46 states plus the District of Columbia have already legalized medical marijuana in some form.

However, federal law leaves doctors who prescribe, patients who use, and dispensaries that provide medical marijuana vulnerable to federal arrest and prosecution. 

Specifically, the CARERS Act would do the following:

(1) Recognize States’ Responsibility 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 will no longer be in violation of federal law and vulnerable to federal prosecution. 

(2) Allow States to Import Cannabidiol (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 change would allow youth suffering from intractable epilepsy to gain access to the medicine they need to control their seizures. 

(3) Provide Access to Veterans

Current law prohibits doctors in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities from prescribing medical marijuana. The CARERS Act would allow VA doctors in states where medical marijuana is legal to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans.

(4) Expand Opportunities for Research

The CARERS Act removes unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles for researchers to gain government approval to undertake important research on marijuana and creates a system for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to encourage research.

The CARERS Act has the support of more than 20 health, veteran, and policy organizations, including American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Safe Access, Compassionate Care NYCoalition for Medical Marijuana NJ, Drug Policy AllianceHousing WorksLaw Enforcement Against Prohibition, Marijuana Policy Project, MS Resources of Central New York, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, NY Physicians for Compassionate Care, Parents Coalition for Rescheduling Medical Cannabis, Patients Out of Time, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, The American Cannabis Nurses Association, The Breast Cancer Coalition of RochesterThird Way, Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, Veterans for Peace, and Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care.

The CARERS Act bill text can be viewed here and a one-pager can be viewed here