Senate Bill Would Protect Marijuana Use in Legal States

By Ellen Lenox Smith, Columnist

A group of bipartisan U.S. senators has announced plans to reintroduce a bill that would allow state medical cannabis laws to supersede the current federal prohibition. The bill would also greatly expand opportunities for medical and scientific research of medical marijuana.

The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act – also known as the CARERS Act – is being sponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Rand Paul (R-KY), Lisa Murkowski (R -Alaska), and Senator Mike Lee (R -Utah). The House version is sponsored by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Don Young (R-Alaska). 

"The fact is our marijuana laws in America are broken," Sen. Booker said at a press conference. "They are savagely broken, and the jagged pieces are hurting American people."

The CARERS Act was originally introduced in 2015, but did not move forward. Back then, the bill only had three sponsors: Sen. Booker, Sen. Gillibrand and Sen Paul.

A big change from 2015 is that a new administration now occupies the White House and there are fears the Justice Department could once again start enforcing federal marijuana laws in states where it is legal.

Some in Congress do not want the feds messing around again with legal cannabis.

“The people have been pretty clear that this is something they don’t want the federal government to interfere with,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon).

If passed, the CARERS Act would leave in place laws legalizing medical marijuana in 30 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam, and protect their citizens from federal prosecution. The bill would also allow veterans to access legal cannabis in those states. Currently, there are federal regulations that bar doctors in Veterans Affairs hospitals from prescribing cannabis to their patients. Veterans caught with marijuana in the system are also being denied access to opioid pain medication.

While running for president, President Trump said marijuana laws should be decided at the state level, but then he tapped Jeff Sessions to be his Attorney General. It is clearly known through his words and actions that Sessions does not believe marijuana should be considered a legitimate medicine, despite the beneficial impact noted by medical professionals across the globe.

In fact, Sessions sent a letter to Congressional leaders back in May, asking them to undo a provision in federal law that bars the Justice Department from going after legal marijuana businesses.

"I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime," Sessions wrote. "The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives."

But supporters of the CARERS Act feel Sessions' thinking is very wrong, especially when it comes to people gripped with chronic pain or conditions such as epilepsy.

Clinical studies have found that cannabidiol, or CBD as it's commonly known, can reduce epileptic seizures in children and young adults as much as 45 percent. The CARERS Act would take CBD off the list of controlled substances, thus allowing children in states where medical cannabis isn't legal to access the life changing oil.

"I dare him (Sessions) to sit down with families and listen to their stories and then pursue a policy like he's advocating for now," says Sen. Booker.

An uphill battle is expected, but the effort is picking up steam. Many red states have now passed some form of legal cannabis.

"I believe things are changing and they're changing fast," Sen. Gillibrand told Rolling Stone. "I think we will get the support we need."

Let’s write and/or call our Senators and ask them to not only support, but also co-sponsor the CARERS Act. To reach their D.C. offices, you can contact the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. To send an email, check this website for their email addresses.

You can also go to this link set up by Americans for Safe Access to contact your Senator.

Ellen Lenox Smith suffers from Ehlers Danlos syndrome and sarcoidosis. Ellen and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical marijuana advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation and serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition.

For more information about medical marijuana, visit their website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.