Introduction of CARERS Act Next Step Forward in Medical Marijuana Field

On June 15, 2017, the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act of 2017 was re-introduced in the U.S. Senate. It was introduced by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (New York), Cory Booker (New Jersey), Al Franken (Minnesota), and Rand Paul (Kentucky). It was additionally supported by Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Senator Mike Lee (Utah). It was previously introduced in March 2015.

The CARERS Act is intended to safeguard patients in states with medical cannabis programs and to expand research opportunities. It would allow for the possession, production, and distribution of medical marijuana in states that have made medical marijuana legal as long as the parties complied with state laws. It would also lift the ban on Veterans Affairs doctors recommending medical marijuana to patients in those states and improve access to marijuana for medical research. When combined with the Rohrbacher-Farr Amendment that was recently extended through September 30, 2017, medical marijuana users, growers, and dispensaries would have a great deal more protection and peace of mind.

The CARERS Act would end the prohibition of medical marijuana and seek to allow its use universally in the treatment of any number of debilitating conditions. Additionally, the bill also proposes excluding cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana, from the federal government’s definition of “marijuana.” Currently, marijuana is still classified as a Level I substance under the Federal Drug Administration’s Controlled Substances Act (C.S.A.). According to the C.S.A., substances in this schedule have no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse. This classification conflicts with the fact that twenty-nine states, as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam, have all enacted medical marijuana laws that allow for its use.

Should this bill pass, when combined with the Rohrbacher-Farr Amendment’s prohibition on the use of federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana growers and dispensaries in states that have regulated medical marijuana, the potential for greater research and use of medical marijuana and its benefits would grow exponentially. It would also result in a lowering of legal risks facing those in this growing segment of the life sciences industry. We will continue to monitor these evolving developments.

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