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A Closer Look at the Federal MMJ Bill

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) (L) kneels near four-year-old Morgan Hintz, who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy, during a news conference on March 10, 2015. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty


A Closer Look at the Federal MMJ Bill

There was a historical piece of legislation introduced to Congress that aims to legalize medical marijuana on a national level. Senators Rand Paul, Cory Booker and Kristen Gillibrand held a press conference on Tuesday to announce the filing of the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act of 2015 (CARERS), which would emancipate states from the confines of federal statutes as they pertain to medical marijuana and ultimately expand the functionality of the nation’s cannabis communities without the concern of federal interference.

Prior to the press conference, all that was known about the bill was that it would “allow patients, doctors and businesses in states that have already passed medical marijuana laws to participate in those programs without fear of federal prosecution.” However, now that the legislation has been published in its entirely, the broader scope of its intentions have been revealed.

Perhaps one of the most crucial elements of the CARERS Act is that it gives medical marijuana states the right to disconnect from the Controlled Substances Act, no longer making the “production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, laboratory testing or delivery of medical marihuana,” illegal in the eyes of the federal government. Under this provision, the Drug Enforcement Administration would cease to have jurisdiction over state medical marijuana businesses and its patients.

The CARERS Act would downgrade the DEA’s current Schedule I classification of cannabis to a Schedule II, stripping Uncle Sam of the authority to claim that marijuana is a dangerous substance with no medicinal benefit. The bill would also remove CBD (with less than .3 percent THC) from the Controlled Substances Act in its entirely, which would allow the medicine to be distributed even in states without a current medical marijuana program in place. For example, even an epileptic child in Indiana would have access to CBD, which is a non-intoxicating derivative of marijuana that is currently showing exceptional promise in the treatment of seizures.

Medical marijuana businesses would finally be allowed banking options under the language of the CARERS Act. Although the Department of Justice has established banking perimeters for the nation’s medicinal cannabis markets, there are still challenges because the guidelines don’t change federal statutes, nor do they guarantee the involved parties will be prosecution-proof. Therefore, in order for this particular aspect of daily commerce to run efficiently, legitimate financial services must be allowed without legal consequence. The CARERS Act would eliminate any concern of federal prosecution for the banking industry.

According to the specifics of the bill, “a depository institution that provides financial services to a marijuana-related legitimate business shall not be subject to a criminal penalty under any Federal law solely for providing those services or for further investing any income derived from such services.”

In the past, the federal government has prevented researchers from exploring the benefits of medical marijuana, mostly because the approval process for these types of studies is such a painstaking affair that only the tried, true and truly organized can expect a shot at a green light. The CARERS Act would cut the majority of the red tape surrounding cannabis research and mandate the federal production of marijuana in at least three facilities, rather than continuing to rely on the 12-acre farm at the University of Mississippi for its entire supply.

Perhaps the most highly publicized provision of the CARERS Act is the impact it would have on American military veterans. The bill would allow physicians working for the Department of Veteran Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to their patients. As it stands, even if a doctor with the VA believes marijuana is a viable treatment option for a patient, they aren’t allowed to even discuss the possibility because of conflicting state and federal law. The passing of this bill would allow veterans suffering from anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, to take advantage of state medical marijuana programs without straying from the care plan prescribed by their medical health professional.

While there’s a better understanding of exactly what this legislation could mean for medical marijuana reform in the United States, the next, and probably the most important question is: What are the chances Congress will allow it to pass?

Most policy reform advocates are enthusiastic about the fact that legislation of this fashion has been met with bipartisan support, but there doesn’t appear to be a lot of confidence in the likelihood of its passage. While experts with the Marijuana Policy Project believe the measure “has legs” and a fighting chance of winning approval, Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, claims the measure will never make it off Capitol Hill alive.

Again, while there are conflicting views in regards to the projected life expectancy of the CARERS Act, everyone seems to agree that the bill will spawn a great deal of media attention and public discussion, and in turn, inject the subject of marijuana legalization into the main vein of American culture once more.

The hope, of course, is that Congress will approve the measure and ship it off to the White House for President Obama’s signature. Yet, considering the recent tactics by Congress used to prevent the District of Columbia from moving forward with a taxed and regulated cannabis market, there is no telling what level of mockery will be displayed once they get their hands on a bill calling for federal reform. With that said, however, change has to begin somewhere, and the CARERS Act could be the baby step lawmakers need to finally put their foot in the water.

Do you think the CARERS Act will pass? Share your opinion in the comments.

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