The CARERS Act Makes a Comeback in Congress
The battle between the government and medical marijuana seems to be never ending. When it comes to its basis of legality, marijuana is still considered one of the most abusive substances in the country as a Schedule I drug. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act was the attempt by two senators to amend medical marijuana’s status on a federal level, but there’s one key government figure that stands in its way – the Attorney General. President Trump chose former Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions to fill that position in his cabinet. Sessions is known for an anti-marijuana stance and his intentions to nix the CARERS Act have been very public. There were aims to thwart the CARERS Act into permeance, but its reappearing again with a few changes.
What is the CARERS Act?
Also known as S.683, the CARERS Act was first presented to the previous Congressional session on March 10, 2015. The bill was introduced by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in efforts to ease the federal government’s hold on medical marijuana reigns. At the time of its introduction, a law had already been passed and renewed that restricted federal raids on cannabis retail businesses in states with legal medical marijuana programs. This law was a huge step in the right direction but didn’t do much to change marijuana’s legal status and policies. Booker and Paul were hoping S.683 would put an end to it being illegal.
In order for things to change, the CARERS Act would alter the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) so that it wouldn’t apply to medical marijuana as how it’s treated by individual states’ law. Next, it would change how banks handle individuals and businesses that deal with medical marijuana cultivation and sales. Banks aren’t technically allowed to work with cannabis businesses because cannabis is federally illegal, but the CARERS Act would prohibit banks from discriminating and refusing to work with said businesses.
Most importantly, the act would change how CBD and THC are considered on a licit level. It would completely remove CBD from the Controlled Substances Act list. It would also marijuana down from the highly addictive/abusive title of Schedule I to the slightly less concerning category of Schedule II. Other Schedule II drugs are still considered to have high abuse potential but hold certain accepted medical benefits. Those include morphine, PCP, methadone, cocaine and methamphetamines.
Opposition of the CARERS Act
Though the bill was presented by two senators most of the opposition comes from within government itself. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has gone on record against marijuana having any sort of possible benefits.
Sessions sent a private letter to congressional leaders back in May calling for them to undue part of a law that prevents the Justice Department from going after legal cannabis establishments.
“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 in the letter. “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.”
Supporters of the CARERS Act obviously feel Sessions thinks wrongfully of cannabis, but he isn’t the only hurdle the act has to jump over. Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) does believe that marijuana has strong benefits medicinally and has even tried to make it easier for marijuana research to be done. But, Grassley has conflicting views of cannabis that have further thwarted its legality.
“I oppose moving marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug, based on the current science on the risks and benefits,” Grassley says. He went on further to say “For children suffering from severe epileptic seizures, the anecdotal evidence says components of the marijuana plant might help. I want to help those children. The key is aggressive medical research.”
The CARERS Act Moves On
Despite opposition within the government, the CARERS Act is getting revived in this new Congressional session. A lighter version of the act was reintroduced on June 15, lacking two of the original bill’s key elements. This time around, the bill won’t seek to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II and it won’t prohibit banks from refusing service to cannabis businesses. Instead, the act is more medically driven in four ways specifically.
The new act would first change the CSA to allow for states to have their own individual marijuana laws without federal involvement. That’s basically how things are presently, but this would prevent any repercussions from the federal government from happening since there are no certain protections currently in place. In addition to this, the new law would stay on track with taking CBD, a cannabidiol that specifically fights pain, off of the unallowed list under the CSA.