Could the CARERS Act Finally Bring an End to Federal Cannabis Prohibition?

Published on March 10, 2015 · Last updated July 28, 2020

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be the beginning of the end of medical cannabis prohibition in the United States.

Today Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Rand Paul (R-KY) are introducing a historic bill that could revolutionize cannabis in the United States as we know it. Titled “The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act,” this bill would allow patients, doctors, and businesses in states that have already passed medical marijuana laws to participate in the cannabis industry without fear of federal prosecution. Said Senator Booker, this bill "seeks to right decades of wrong and end unnecessary marijuana laws."

The bill has the advantage of bipartisan support across the aisle. With backers from both the Democratic and Republican parties, the CARERS Act has the highest likelihood to pass of any federal cannabis bills that have been introduced to date. 

Crucial points in the CARERS Act include:

Recognizing the States' Rights in Regulating Their Legal Cannabis Programs

Removing federal barriers would bring a huge sigh of relief for medical marijuana advocates across the United States. This bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act to allow states to set and enforce their own marijuana policies. The senators will be working closely with the Department of Justice, particularly with Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, to establish federal guidance for states that are currently transitioning to a medical marijuana market.

Rescheduling Cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II and Allowing Government Funding to Be Spent on Research

This bill would make huge advances in rescheduling cannabis so that there is no discrepancy between state and federal medical allowances. The move would also allow for government funding to be used specifically for cannabis-related research, closing a gap that has existed due to the constraints of cannabis being classified as a Schedule I drug.

Removing CBD Oil from the Controlled Substances Act

The CARERS Act would remove CBD oil from the Controlled Substances Act's federal definition of marijuana, allowing patients and families in states with legalized cannabidiol oil to access the life-saving drug legally and safely.

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Lifting Restrictions in the Department of Veteran Affairs That Prevent Doctors from Prescribing Medical Marijuana

This bill would bring some big changes for the Department of Veteran Affairs, whose doctors are currently restricted from prescribing or recommending medical cannabis for veterans despite the prevalence of PTSD in veteran soldiers, as well as the numerous studies that support the use of cannabis as a valid treatment for PTSD. If the CARERS Act is passed and implemented, thousands of military veterans who live in legal medical marijuana states will finally have safe, legal access to medicine that can help treat their horrific post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dissolving Any Remaining Federal Issues Involving Banking Institutions Working with Cannabis Businesses

The cannabis industry has long struggled with lack of access to banking services and is often forced to have large quantities of cash in their possession, increasing their risk of theft or robbery and posing a clear safety risk for employees. The CARERS Act would remove federal restrictions for banking with cannabusinesses. With these restrictions lifted, cannabis companies can process payroll like any other business, work with the IRS on a better level, and create a safer industry for everyone involved.

This bill has the potential to change the entire infrastructure around cannabis and it’s got the most support of any federal bill yet, but it isn't a sure thing yet, and even if it does get passed, change doesn't happen overnight. Both the CARERS Act and the cannabis movement need your help — contact your senator and urge him or her to support this bill and bring some much-needed change to a draconian and outdated policy.

How You Can Help Support the CARERS Act

There's much you can do to show your support of this historic bill: 

Dear Senator _______,

I am writing to urge you to support the CARERS Act recently introduced by Senators Gillibrand, Booker, and Paul. This act would revolutionize cannabis in the United States. By removing cannabis as a Schedule I drug, this opens the doors for doctors to prescribe the drug legally and will provide a safeguard for states with medical cannabis systems. Federal restrictions have been an obstacle and it is imperative that we reconcile these differences between federal and state laws in order for the country to move forward. Please support the CARERS Act for your constituents, for medical marijuana patients, and for advocates across the state. Thank you for your time.

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Lisa Rough
Lisa Rough
Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.
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