Monday, March 30, 2015
The C.A.R.E.R.S. Act: A Step in the Right Direction - by Rachel Bunting
Since the 1970s marijuana has been classified as a schedule I drug, but a new bill put before the senate this month could change that. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (or CARERS) Act is meant to encourage more research into the plant while reducing the federal government’s ability to interfere in state-legal medical marijuana programs. The bill was introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-Ky), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). According to the Huffington Post Booker says, “This bill seeks to right decades of wrong.”
The decades of wrong Booker is referring to are the last 4 decades where marijuana has been put in the same classification as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. This schedule implies that the drug has no medical use and has a high potential for abuse. However as more research on marijuana has been completed with positive results showing the drug’s usefulness as a medication, its status as schedule I hasn’t changed. This classification of marijuana is part of the reason medical marijuana programs have run into problems with the federal government. Though it does seem that the feds are going out of their way to bother medical marijuana businesses, the fact is they are simply following federal law and treating marijuana the way that law states which says pot has no medical use. In order to stop the chaos and federal intrusion, the schedule of the drug must be changed to, at the very least, concede that marijuana has medicinal properties.
While the CARERS Act would not legalize marijuana throughout the nation, nor force states to adopt marijuana policies of their own, it would allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies without the federal government meddling. The bill would allow patients, doctors, and businesses to participate in their state’s medical program without fear of being incriminated by the federal government. The bill would protect the state laws regarding medical marijuana and anyone who is in compliance with those laws. This bill would also be the first acknowledgement from the government that the drug has medical benefits and could ease some of the current restrictions on research.
Marijuana research has been hindered since 1999 when the federal government established a process requiring all marijuana research to go through a Public Health Service review. This process was put into place after a 1998 Institute of Medicine report called for more scientific research into the medical value of the plant, it is also a process that no other schedule I drug is subject to. The bill would remove this process. It would also end the bias of federally funded research on marijuana by calling for no less than three other licensed sources for research-grade cannabis. Federally sanctioned studies of the drug use only one marijuana garden for all research, which is run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It also seems that the only marijuana research funded by the government is meant to focus on the potentially negative effects of the drug. There would be more opportunities to discover all the medical promise of the plant if more than one source was preforming the research.
As an added benefit the bill would remove marijuana with less than 0.3 percent THC from the schedule altogether. THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that causes the “high” sensation. However there are many strains of marijuana/hemp that contain little to no THC but are high in cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound that shows high medical value especially for patients suffering from seizures. Due to the current narrow legalization of these strains, many patients have been forced to seek their medication from other sources, including traveling to more relaxed states and transporting marijuana over state lines, which is illegal, turning patients into criminals. The removal of these strains from the schedule would allow states to import low-THC/high-CBD strains for those patients that need it.
Marijuana, both medical and recreational, is the fastest growing industry in the U.S. bringing in more than $1 billion in annual revenue from state-legal programs. The current laws, however, make banks fear being implicated as money launderers and as a result they remain cautious about working with any marijuana related businesses. These businesses are then forced into cash-only transactions which creates problems with employee payroll and put retailers’ safety at risk. The CARERS Act would expand banking for medical marijuana and enable them to function as traditional businesses.
Last, but most certainly not least, the bill would allow veterans easier access to the help they need. Currently veterans that seek medical marijuana cannot use the Department of Veterans Affairs’ doctors for the medical treatment they need as these doctors are forbidden from aiding these patients. Under this new bill the VA doctors would be able to recommend marijuana to their patients, as long as it is legal under their practicing state laws. Marijuana has been shown to help with pain, both physical and emotional, as well as depression and PTSD and needs to be recognized by the government so we can protect and help the men and women that have protected and helped this country.
More than 20 high-profile organizations have shown support for the CARERS Act, including American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Safe Access, Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance, and Law Enforcement against Prohibition and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. According to the International Business Times, President Obama did not profess a personal opinion on the legislation simply stating, “We may be able to make some progress on the decriminalization side…At a certain point, if enough states end up decriminalizing, then Congress may reschedule marijuana.” The President also pointed out, “Our criminal justice system is so heavily skewed toward cracking down on non-violent drug offenders that it has not just had a terrible effect on many communities…it costs a huge amount of money to the states and a lot of states are starting to figure that out.” Rescheduling marijuana would save the states money, while allowing for more extensive research as well as protecting doctors, patients, caregivers, and businesses from federal prosecution.