U.S.: Senators Gillibrand & Booker Meet With Families About Federal Medical Marijuana Bill
Families with Children & Loved Ones in Need of Treatment Join Senators to Discuss Landmark Proposal to Let States Legalize Medical Marijuana
Leading National Epilepsy Organization Backs Bipartisan Medical Marijuana Bill
Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) on Sunday joined New York and New Jersey families who would benefit from the new bipartisan bill to allow patients in states that have legalized medical marijuana to access the treatment without fear of federal prosecution.
The Senators also announced the support of the Epilepsy Foundation, which has endorsed the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act that Booker and Gillibrand, along with Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced last week. The CARERS Act respects states’ ability that set their own medical marijuana programs and prevents federal law enforcement from prosecuting patients, doctors and caregivers in states that have legalized medical marijuana. Both New York and New Jersey have legalized use of medical marijuana.
“The federal government should not get in between doctors and the families they treat who need to access to this medicine for their loved ones,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I want to thank the extraordinary families with us today who are simply asking Congress to let them do the right thing for their children. With the efforts of my bipartisan Senate colleagues, these brave families, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the support of the Epilepsy Foundation I am hopeful we can finally take the long overdue step of modernizing our federal drug policies.”
“We need policies that empower states to legalize medical marijuana if they so choose—recognizing that there are Americans who can realize real medical benefits if this treatment option is brought out of the shadows,” said Senator Booker. “Doctors and patients deserve federal laws that are fair and compassionate, and states should be able to set their own medical marijuana policies without federal interference.
"I am thankful for the support and endorsement of the Epilepsy Foundation as well as the Drug Policy Alliance and my colleagues in Congress Senators Gillibrand and Paul, for their hard work on this common-sense bill to make medical marijuana accessible to the millions of Americans who could benefit from it including the families joining us here today,” Senator Booker said.
"The Epilepsy Foundation strongly supports the CARERS Act introduced by Senators Gillibrand, Booker, and Paul,” says Philip M. Gattone, M.Ed., president and CEO, Epilepsy Foundation. “This legislation is critical to further research on cannabis and compassionate access for families in states that have created medical cannabis programs.
"We applaud these Senate champions who are paving the way to innovation," Gattone said. "Additional research is needed to guide families and doctors considering cannabis as a treatment option for debilitating conditions like epilepsy after existing options have failed. We strongly urge the Senate to act on this legislation immediately to recognize the medical use of cannabis and help lift federal restrictions on research.”
Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, and 12 states have laws on the books or are about to be signed into law by their governors regulating cannabidiol (CBD) oils, a non-psychotropic component of medical marijuana which some families use to treat their children’s seizures. However federal leaves doctors who prescribe, patients who use and businesses that sell medical marijuana vulnerable to arrest.
As a currently classified Schedule I drug, federal law also severely restricts medical marijuana research, as well as fair and safe financial services for medical marijuana-related businesses.
The families who joined Senators Gillibrand and Booker expressed their support for a federal fix so that their children and other families could receive necessary medical treatment.
“We are tired of seeing our government officials turning their heads and ignoring this issue,” said Kate Hintz, whose four-year-old daughter Morgan has an epilepsy condition known as Dravet Syndrome. “The fact is that many families are left with two choices -- obtain treatment illegally and risk arrest or deny treatment and watch their loved ones suffer. To allow this to continue is unconscionable. I urge our nation’s Senators to support this groundbreaking bill, and help us get our kids the medicine they need.”
“My daughter Olivia is four years old and has an extremely rare neurological disorder called Aicardi Syndrome,” said Polly VanderWoude. “Olivia has had seizures almost every day of her life, often multiple times a day. She has tried and failed a dozen pharmaceutical treatments, and we are hopeful that medical marijuana can offer her body and brain much needed relief from daily seizures.
"It is important to us that Olivia have legal and safe access to this medicine, under the guidance of her physician, and this bill is critical to eliminating outdated federal barriers to medical marijuana," VanderWoude said. "I am deeply touched by Senator Gillibrand's passion for helping families like ours, and I urge others in the Senate to sign this bill immediately.”
“Each time, we see our daughter seizing, we feel helpless at her side and terrified for her life,” said Dalila Kessaci, whose daughter three-year-old daughter Mellina suffers from a severe form of childhood epilepsy known as Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. “We are so thankful to Senators Gillibrand and Booker for giving us hope that one day our family and families across the country will not feel so powerless.”
“We are grateful that Amanda is with us today, despite the seizures that she suffers, often on a daily basis,” said Maryanne Houser, whose nine-year-old daughter Amanda has Dravet’s Syndrome. “We know that with Senators Gillibrand and Booker championing this effort on the federal level, she will have access to a medical marijuana that may well make the difference between life or death.”
“I am proud to stand alongside Senators Gillibrand and Booker to support their leadership in ending the federal ban on marijuana as a medicine,” said Paula Notari, whose daughter Emma was diagnosed with a rare form of severe epilepsy, Ohtahara's Syndrome and passed away a few weeks after her birth. “No family should have to endure the loss of a child like we did with our precious Emma Rose.”
Specifically, the CARERS Act would:
(1) Recognize States’ Responsibility to Set Medical Marijuana Policy & Eliminate Potential Federal Prosecution
The CARERS Act amends the Controlled Substances Act so that states can set their own medical marijuana policies. The patients, providers and businesses participating in state medical marijuana programs will no longer be in violation of federal law and vulnerable to federal prosecution.
(2) Reschedule Marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, Recognizing “Accepted Medical Use”
Marijuana is currently listed as a Schedule I drug, meaning it does not currently have accepted medical use in the United States. The CARERS Act moves it to Schedule II, recognizing what Americans already know: marijuana has a legitimate medical purpose. Unfortunately, this would have the practical effect of placing medical marijuana under the control of Big Pharma. This steady march towards elimination of the mom-and-pop, community-connected medical marijuana business as it exists today, in favor of a faceless corporate model, must be resisted.
(3) Allow States to Import Cannabidiol (CBD), Recognized Treatment for Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders
The CARERS Act amends the Controlled Substances Act to remove specific strains of CBD oil from the federal of definition of marijuana. This will allow youth suffering from intractable epilepsy to gain access to the medicine they need to control their seizures.
(4) Provide Veterans Access
Doctors in Department of Veterans Affairs facilities are currently prohibited prescribing medical marijuana. The CARERS Act would allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans.
(5) Permit Financial Services and Banking for Marijuana Dispensaries
Right now, medical marijuana business is a cash business. The CARERS Act provides a safe harbor to banks and credit unions, their officers and employees that provide financial services to marijuana-related businesses that engage in activities pursuant to state law.
(6) Expand Opportunities for Research
The CARERS Act removes unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles for researchers to gain government approval to undertake important research on marijuana.
Photo of Sens. Kirsten Gillebrand and Cory Booker: Zimbio