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Congress Set to Revive CARERS Act

June 14, 2017
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, will be among those re-introducing the CARERS Act on Capitol Hill on Thursday. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, file)
Members of Congress are expected to introduce a revised version of the CARERS Act on Capitol Hill tomorrow afternoon. It would be the second introduction of the bill since its debut in 2015. The new version waters down two of the bill’s key elements, which could give it a better chance at a committee hearing.

Both chambers are in on the bill. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mike Lee (R-UT), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK, pictured above), and Al Franken (D-MN) will introduce in the upper house, while a group of Congress members including Rep. Don Young (R-AK), will introduce the House bill.

CARERS stands for Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States. The original version of the bill would have ended the drug war, at least with regard to cannabis. This latest version is softer.

New Jersey’s Sen. Cory Booker first introduced the CARERS Act in March 2015. That version would have rescheduled cannabis, a Schedule I drug, to Schedule II, where the bulk of the more heavily controlled pharmaceuticals are kept.

It would have also protected banks who choose to deal with cannabis businesses, perhaps the industry’s most broad-reaching problem.

The bill expected to be introduced tomorrow will have neither of those elements.

Still, the second try of the CARERS Act would clean up several of the problems plaguing cannabis consumers and the states that legalized cannabis. The bill seems more medically focused than the last version, which had a commercial flavor in the banking section.


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What the New Act Would Do

In effect, the new bill would take four major actions, each aimed at allowing states to make their own decisions:

First, CARERS would change the Controlled Substances Act to allow states to make their own medical cannabis laws. States already do this – 30 of them, so far – but the modification to the CSA would stop the federal government from prosecuting anybody in states where cannabis is medically legal. Right now there are no concrete protections, aside from the temporary Rohrabacher-Blumenauer budget amendment, and states operate under vague threats and hints from federal officials.

The CARERS Act would also cure one of the state-caused bottlenecks in medical supply chains. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration groups cannabidiol (CBD) with the other Schedule I cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Many states specifically allow medical CBD, which can treat nervous diseases including epilepsy, but don’t allow for its production. The resulting nationwide confusion has led to raids and seizures, even in states where the far more psychoactive cannabinoid THC is legal. The CARERS Act would strip CBD out of the Controlled Substances Act so states could import it.


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Along the same patient access lines, CARERS would allow veterans to get prescriptions for cannabis from their Veterans Affairs doctors. Because of federal laws, current VA physicians are not allowed to talk about cannabis with veterans.

Finally, the bill would simplify how researchers can get their hands on cannabis for studies. Right now, nearly all researchers are legally bound to use poor-quality cannabis grown at the University of Mississippi.

Whether or not the bill’s new terms will help is anyone’s guess. Last time, the bill didn’t do so well – both the House and the Senate shunted it off into a handful of subcommittees, and not a single one of them gave the bill a hearing.

Most cannabis-related bills share the same fate, both historically and recently. Californian Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher introduced the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2015 in April of that year. Like the CARERS Act, the House sliced it up among half a dozen subcommittees, and nothing has ever come of it.


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This time, there is a little more steam behind the effort.

The new bill has more power players than it did before. Utah Sen. Mike Lee is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Most long time cannabis advocates see the Judiciary Committee as the biggest hurdle in Congress, guarded closely by chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) – who most of those advocates say is cannabis legalization’s biggest enemy, with the exception of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski brings some muscle as well. She sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee – the one Sessions asked just a few days ago to remove a rider that forbids the Department of Justice from going after cannabis in state where it’s legal.

The bill is also getting more love from both sides of the aisle. Support for the CARERS Act is starting to look decidedly more purple than in previous years. On the Senate side, the sponsoring legislators are half GOP – Sens. Rand Paul (KY), Mike Lee (UT), and Lisa Murkowski (AK). This is part of a larger trend in Washington, where more and more Republicans are backing cannabis measures, or at least showing themselves more receptive to hearing the arguments in favor of legalization. Traditional conservative issues like state rights and free markets are now as much a part of the conversation as medical access.

Whether it gets a hearing anytime soon is almost beside the point – the CARERS Act shows that cannabis is slowly getting Congress on its side.

DJ Summers's Bio Image

DJ Summers

DJ Summers is a journalist and the author of The Business of Cannabis, set to publish in spring of 2018. Follow him on Twitter @djsummers87 or email him at

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  • max’s pad

    Imagine if a state’s law enforcement decided its duties were to its own citizens and to enforcing the laws of the state and the citizens who paid them.

    Some far away police from other states paid by the DOJ come into your state and try to kidnap/arrest (by state/federal definintions). I think we have gone down the path of authoritarianism so far that most of us would tolerate violation of state laws. The US was created to strengthen national government but never to the extent of overriding local laws that had no effect on the national laws.

    If Alice returns from the rabbit hole where everything is topsy turvey, then maybe a couple of state police cars and a few local and county police would prevent someone being taken away and held by force by doing their duty to their own state’s citizens.
    We’ll soon see as Sessions just announce he wants to ban ALL marijuana and continue with the drug wars that have cost us billions and locks up 500% more prisoners than 40 years ago with the most prison growth due to small pot crimes as minor as having a roach, or seeds in you rug or paraphernalia with residue or for selling a glass or brass pipe.

    The money lobbying for the drug war is the private prison industry whose profits coincidentally feed politicians like Sessions.

  • Gary Craig

    Congress!! Do your damn job and get this done. Sessions is determined, one way, or the other to go after cannabis patients, growers, etc.

  • lovingc

    Jeff Sessionss has had his teeth pulled. He lost them by lying and not answering congressional questions. He is now under investigation for obstruction of justice. Also perjury. So Jeffy is out of the picture for now and the future.

    • Jimmy Dean

      I hope you are correct, but I am not so sure. His deputy AG seems to have a hard on for herb too.

      • lovingc

        He made a statement of fact, but I didn’t get any sign he wanted to change the status quo.

  • Joseph Capps

    Sessions is seriously deluded in relation to Marijuana Laws ! Leave the States alone already . You have more serious problems with OPIOID Addiction ! Seek out “REAL CRIMINALS” for awhile , your personal views on Marijuana Legalization doesn’t counteract States Rights !

  • Michael Robinson

    we have the responsibility to help people who will die without the antidote medicine
    cannabis. today in states where cannabis medicine is legal, opiate drugs will not be used
    and individuals will choose cannabis instead of opiate death sentances… this is the main
    reason to set the cannabis plant free to heal. let your soul know that you made the best
    choice for the people of america releasing the cannabis plant to heal our nations people
    and even the world as it will. blessings as you decide for humanties best solution to the legal drug
    production death epidemic. when drugged deaths hits home interesting how politicians and
    ignorent people get real concerned about the need for a better soulution. cannabis is the best
    answer we all have for the healing choice, love the people not the profit and the solution will arise…m

  • lovingc

    There are not enough supporters nor a majority of representatives interested in legalizing to that extent. The main road blocks are the chair people of the gatekeeper committees. Like Chuck Grassly who will not allow these types of legislations to get a hearing. This is the reality of congress. These fossils are purposely blocking needed legislation to stop the Trump administration’s war on the american people.