Booker Announces Medical Marijuana Bill to Allow Patients – Including Veterans – to Access Necessary Care without Fear of Federal Prosecution

Paul Nichols, Bergen Dispatch

Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) today stood with patients, their families and advocates to announce new bipartisan legislation that will allow the use of medical marijuana in states where it is legal without fear of federal prosecution. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act would reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to Schedule II drug to recognize it has accepted medical use, and would amend federal law to allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies.

The bill would also permit VA doctors to prescribe veterans medical marijuana to treat serious injuries and chronic conditions. The legislation would not legalize medical marijuana in all 50 states, rather it would respect the states that set their own medical marijuana programs and prevents federal law enforcement from prosecuting patients, doctors and caregivers in those states. Currently, 23 states plus the District of Columbia have already legalized medical marijuana.
“We need policies that empower states to legalize medical marijuana if they so choose—recognizing that there are Americans who can realize real medical benefits if this treatment option is brought out of the shadows,” said Senator Booker. “Doctors and patients deserve federal laws that are fair and compassionate, and states should be able to set their own medical marijuana policies without federal interference.  I am thankful to Senators Gillibrand and Paul as well as the Drug Policy Alliance for their hard work on this common-sense bill to make medical marijuana accessible to the millions of Americans who could benefit from it.”
"For far too long, the government has enforced unnecessary laws that have restricted the ability of the medical community to determine the medicinal value of marijuana and have prohibited Americans from receiving essential care that will alleviate their chronic pain and suffering. I am proud today to stand with Sens. Gillibrand and Booker to introduce a bill that will fundamentally change our nation’s drug policies and have positive impacts on the lives of children and Veterans,” said Senator Paul.
“Current federal law turns its back on families in need of this medicine, which doctors want to prescribe to ease pain and suffering,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Senators Booker, Paul and I agree that it’s time to modernize our laws and recognize the health benefits of medical marijuana. The CARERS Act will no longer put politicians between doctors and patients. It will let doctors do their job and give parents every available option to comfort their children.”
Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, and 12 states have laws on the books or are about to be signed into law by their governors regulating cannabidiol (CBD) oils, a non-psychotropic component of medical marijuana which some families use to treat their children’s seizures. However federal leaves doctors who prescribe, patients who use and businesses that sell medical marijuana vulnerable to arrest. As a currently classified Schedule I drug, federal law also severely restricts medical marijuana research, as well as fair and safe financial services for medical marijuana-related businesses.
Specifically, the CARERS Act would:
(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)   Reschedule Marijuana from Schedule I 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.
(3)   Allow States to Import Cannbidiol (CBD), 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 of definition of marijuana. This will allow youth suffering from intractable epilepsy to gain access to the medicine they need to control their seizures.
(4)   Provide Veterans Access
Doctors in Department of Veterans Affairs facilities are currently prohibited prescribing medical marijuana. The CARERS Act would allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans.
(5)   Permit Financial Services and Banking for Marijuana Dispensaries
Right now, 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.
(6)   Expand Opportunities for Research
The CARERS Act removes unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles for researchers to gain government approval to undertake important research on marijuana.
Though federal law limits the opportunities for research, studies have shown that medical marijuana is an effective treatment for a variety of illnesses. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences conducted a two-year review of data and found widespread agreement that medical marijuana can treat nausea, pain and anxiety. A conclusion from another study through the University of California found evidence that medical cannabis can treat certain types of pain syndromes caused by injury or diseases of the nervous system, and possibly for painful muscle spasticity due to multiple sclerosis.
Senators Booker, Paul and Gillibrand were joined by patients and their family members, including Sandy Faiola, of New Jersey who is a medical marijuana patient and advocate; Kate Hintz and her daughter Morgan of New York who have advocated for Cannabidiol (CBD) to treat epilepsy and seizure; TJ Thompson, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1998 through 2004; and Corey Barnette, Owner of District Growers LLC.
“I am a patient of multiple sclerosis and sarcoidosis, and I use medical cannabis because it helps me with neuralgia, insomnia and nausea,” said Sandy Faiola, a New Jersey resident and medical marijuana patient. “Nearly half of all states recognize marijuana as a medicine.  Although my state of New Jersey affords me some access to medical cannabis, it troubles me to think of people who would benefit from medical cannabis but cannot legally obtain it. Passage of this bill cannot happen soon enough. I want to thank the sponsors for their leadership.  I am tired of being a potential felon every time I use medical cannabis to improve my quality of life."
“I am so happy to support this bill. As the mother of a child with a severe seizure disorder, anxiously waiting to get access to a medication that is already helping thousands of others is unbearable,” said Kate Hintz, a New York resident who has advocated for CBD to treat her daughter and others to treat epilepsy and seizures. “After persistent advocacy in my home state of New York, we finally saw a medical marijuana law passed last summer.  Yet individual state’s laws, including New York’s, will not succeed until we lift the current federal restrictions surrounding this plant. I applaud Senators Gillibrand, Booker and Paul for taking this bold step forward and insisting the federal government take action.  Let’s end the fear and stigma associated with marijuana, and instead allow this bill to provide research, medicine, and long needed relief to so many. It cannot come fast enough, especially for my daughter.”
 “With studies showing that medical cannabis access decreases suicide and addiction rates, the CARERS Act is absolutely necessary to help fix a broken healthcare system for veterans, which deals with suicides and addiction at catastrophic rates,” said TJ Thompson, a retired U.S. Navy Third Class Petty Officer.
“The CARERS Act removes a major operating hurdle for medical marijuana businesses by allowing them to access banking and merchant services,” said Corey Barnette, Owner of District Growers LLC. “By doing so, businesses can more safely and effectively provide service to the sick and vulnerable.”
“As the parents of severely ill children who could be helped by medical cannabis, we are dedicated to advancing safe, legal and viable access,” said Maria De Gregorio, a parent leader of the Kentucky-based Parents Coalition for Rescheduling Medical Cannabis. “Rescheduling efforts must also guarantee access to whole plant extracts that have proven therapeutic benefits. We feel it is crucial to support state rights in all current and future medical marijuana programs. Thus, we strongly endorse this bill as it is written.”
“Almost half the states have legalized marijuana for medical use; it’s long past time to end the federal ban,” said Michael Collins, Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. “This bipartisan legislation allows states to set their own medical marijuana policies and ends the criminalization of patients, their families, and the caregivers and dispensary owners and employees who provide them their medicine.”
“As a career law enforcement professional and mother I recognize that the federal prohibition of medical marijuana has endangered patients, providers and public safety in many ways,” said Lieutenant Commander Diane Goldstein (Ret.), board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “The CARERS Act provides the clarity needed to allow states to develop and implement their own laws and policies without interference from the federal government. The bill’s multi-faceted approach will benefit millions of Americans now suffering from chronic pain and illness by removing barriers to research while helping provide safe access to quality medicine.”
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 NY, Coalition for Medical Marijuana NJ, Drug Policy Alliance , Housing Works, Law 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 Rochester, Third Way, Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, Veterans for Peace and Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care.
The CARERS Act bill text and a one pager can be viewed here.