Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY) filed a bill today, March 10, which would legalize medical marijuana at the federal level. The bill, titled the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, would take marijuana’s federal scheduling down one notch, from Schedule I to Schedule II, so that doctors could legally prescribe marijuana to their patients.
“We don’t want doctors to be punished for simply trying to help people,” said Paul during a press conference. He noted that research has also been prevented due to the herb’s restrictive Schedule I status. “When it’s Schedule I it’s virtually impossible to research. Is the proof always there? We don’t know because we can’t do the research. But I’m in favor of allowing the research to occur.”
Gillibrand explained that families in New York and across the U.S. are seeking access to marijuana medicine to treat their severely epileptic children. She pointed out that medical marijuana is legal in 23 states, plus Washington, D.C., and 12 other states have laws allowing the use of cannabidiol (CBD) — cannabis strains with low levels of THC that don’t cause a high. She explained that epileptic children throughout states with medical marijuana access are finding relief. But, children in many places are prevented from accessing the medicine due to federal law. Families aren’t just living in fear of persecution, but of losing their children to child services for giving them marijuana.
“The federal laws threaten prosecution of the patients, of the doctors, the providers who participate in medical marijuana programs,” Gillibrand said. “And these laws, as Sen. Paul said, severely restrict the scientific research of medical marijuana, they prevent the transparent financing for medical marijuana dispensaries forcing providers to rely on dangerous cash only businesses. These laws ignore the health benefits of medical marijuana. This is clearly a case of ideology getting in the way of scientific progress. The government should not prevent doctors from prescribing medicine that has shown to work.”
She introduced a stay at home mom named Kate whose daughter, Morgan, has an epileptic condition so severe that she has multiple seizures per day despite trying more than 10 anti-seizure medications. While Gillibrand spoke, Morgan had a small seizure in her chair. “Morgan’s mother would have to violate laws and risk arrest just to give her daughter the medicine she needs,” Gillibrand said.
Kate followed Gillibrand to the podium with a testimonial explaining that she was eager to try CBD treatments on her four-year-old daughter.
“We’ve been advocating for access to medical marijuana for almost two years now,” she said, explaining that Morgan’s seizures started at 9 weeks old. Upon her first admission to hospital she was given anticonvulsant medication. Within ten days she was given a second, and within a month they had added a third.
“I was forced to watch as Morgan become unresponsive and lifeless from sedation,” Kate said, explaining that Morgan depends on a feeding tube, cannot sit, stand or crawl independently, does not speak, and requires constant supervision from a nurse. “We will never know what has affected her more, here uncontrolled seizures or the mountains of medications she has taken in her short life.”
Kate explained how many families have turned to CBD medicine, which is proving so effective at treating seizures in children that most of the nation’s leading children’s hospitals are involved in a CBD clinical trial. However, many families, like Kate’s, cannot legally access the treatment.
Other speakers at the press conference included an older woman with multiple sclerosis [MS] seeking access to medical marijuana to help her sleep as well as a wheelchair-bound father with MS (who worked on Sen. Paul’s staff), and a 35-year-old war veteran, who uses marijuana to combat his PTSD symptoms. He pointed out the hypocrisy that he was labeled a criminal for his medical marijuana use by the country for which he risked his life for more than six years.
Senator Booker also introduced a medical marijuana business owner who discussed the difficulties of trying to operate without access to banking services.
If the bill passes, it will make for some fundamental shifts when it comes to medical marijuana in this country. Those shifts will not necessarily be beneficial to all. While the necessity of changing marijuana’s legal and medical status is apparent, moving it to Schedule II could encroach on existing statewide medical marijuana programs, which aren’t necessarily set up to dispense Schedule II prescriptions. Additionally, marijuana use in the four states that have legalized it for adult use similar to alcohol might come up against some contradictions; never before has a Schedule II prescription drug been allowed for use socially. If the law passes, it will be historic, and new questions would undoubtedly arise as to how existing state laws and the new federal law would co-exist.