US Senators Introduce Unprecedented, Sweeping Bipartisan Medical Marijuana Bill Aimed at Protecting Patients Hundreds of patient advocates will gather in Washington, DC on March 31st to lobby for passage of Senate bill

March 10, 2015 | Kris Hermes

Washington, DC -- Comprehensive medical marijuana legislation was introduced today in the US Senate for the first time in the country's history. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act to end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana and allow states to set their own policies. The CARERS Act is endorsed by several advocacy groups including Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which helped Senate authors develop the legislation.

The CARERS Act will reclassify marijuana for medical use, overhaul the banking laws so as not to punish licensed businesses, allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, and eliminate current barriers to research. Currently, twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have adopted medical marijuana laws, and another twelve states have adopted laws allowing for the consumption of a specific form of cannabis known as Cannabidiol or CBD commonly used to treat seizure disorders.

Despite the passage of medical marijuana laws in more than half of the United States, it remains illegal under federal law. Because of this, qualified patients who use medical marijuana in compliance with state law are still at risk of federal enforcement, as are dispensary owners and government regulators. Families with children suffering from severe epileptic seizures are forced to relocate or travel long distances to get treatment for their loved ones, and are vulnerable to arrest for doing so. Lawful medical marijuana businesses are currently prohibited from accessing banking services and forced to operate on a cash-only basis, causing numerous public safety issues. Furthermore, veterans are routinely prevented from using medical marijuana in conjunction with PTSD or pain medication.

"The CARERS Act is groundbreaking for its unprecedented introduction by Senators Paul, Booker, and Gillibrand, for the scope of protection it would offer to qualified patients, and for significantly increased research opportunities," said ASA Government Affairs Director Mike Liszewski. "We look forward to working with the US Senate to ensure passage of this important legislation."

Hundreds of patient advocates are expected to gather in Washington, DC for a lobby day on Tuesday, March 31st as part of ASA's third annual Unity Conference. US Senators have never had to take a public position on medical marijuana issues, but the ASA lobby day focused on the CARERS Act will provide a unique opportunity for patient advocates to play a role in shaping those positions.

The CARERS Act is being introduced just months after Congress passed Section 538 of the Appropriations Act, a one-year spending provision that prohibits the Department of Justice (DOJ) from using its funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. This bill goes further by codifying that change and preventing any federal agency -- not just DOJ -- from interfering with the implementation of state laws.

The CARERS Act is a composite of current and soon-to-be-introduced House legislation. Specifically, the bill will amend the Controlled Substances Act to explicitly allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies without violating federal law. The CARERS Act will reclassify marijuana from its current Schedule I status as a dangerous drug with no medical value to Schedule II. The bill will also change federal law to allow banks to provide financial services to licensed businesses, allow Veteran Affairs physicians to recommend medical marijuana to their patients, and enable CBD to be imported to states that have legalized its use. The CARERS Act will also remove bureaucratic barriers to research and break the current monopoly on the production of research-grade marijuana.

Further information:
The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act
Press Pass Registration for Third Annual Unity Conference March 27-31

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