In an unlikely threesome, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced a historic bill in the U.S. Senate Tuesday that would essentially end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana use.
Called the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act (aka CARERS), the legislation would let states legalize marijuana for medical purposes without federal interference and permit interstate commerce in cannabidiol oils known as CBD which are non-psychotropic components of medical marijuana.
Just as important from the research perspective, the act would reclassify marijuana from Schedule 1, the most severely limiting classification under the federal Controlled Substances Act, to Schedule 2, which would enable further scientific and medical study without the onerous restrictions currently imposed although it still would recognize marijuana’s “high potential for abuse.”
For veterans, the bill would allow physicians at the Veterans Administration to prescribe marijuana treatment. Banks would be able to provide checking accounts and other financial services to marijuana dispensaries.
“Federal laws don’t allow any medical use of marijuana even in states where it’s legal,” said Sen. Gillibrand Wednesday from her Senate office in Washington, D.C. “It’s clearly a case of ideology getting in the way of scientific progress. Government should not prevent doctors from prescribing medicine that has been shown to work.”
Asked about her bill’s unusual joint partnership that connects the liberal wing of the Democratic Party to the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, Gillibrand said, “Each senator comes at every issue independently. I think Senator Rand Paul is a doctor so he understands how this medicine is used in treatment quite well. Senator Booker cares passionately about the families in his state who are experiencing problems because they can’t get access to the medicine they need,” she added. “I think it’s common sense and I think we will prevail.”
“This legislation is a game-changer,” said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance in New York. “It is worth noting that Senators with a national profile are championing this issue. Ending the war on medical marijuana is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.”
Currently, 23 states plus the District of Columbia have passed laws that legalize and regulate marijuana for medicinal purposes. Twelve states have laws already on the books or about to be signed into law by their governors regulating CBD oils, which some parents have been using to treat their children’s seizures. New York State’s law, passed last year, won’t take effect for 18 months. Meanwhile, marijuana is legal for non-medical use in four states as well as in D.C.
A long-time champion of marijuana law reform in New York, Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried finally made headway last year when his CARE Act was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He hailed the Senate bill as “an important step.”
“It would help us implement our medical marijuana law, by reducing doubts about what the federal government will or won’t allow,” Gottfried told the Press, adding that reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug would mean recognizing its medical value.
“If New York then adopted the same change – and we always keep our schedules in line with the federal – then medical marijuana would be available on the same basis as morphine, hydrocodone, and many other drugs,” he said. “It makes no sense that New York’s medical marijuana law is now much more restrictive than the laws governing drugs that are so much more dangerous.”