Republicans believe in states rights’ on many issues but they’ve always looked the other way when it comes to drug laws. Even though twenty nine states have legalized medical marijuana, there has hardly been any action from Republicans (or Democrats) to address federal law on the issue. To solve that problem, Rand Paul reintroduced the CARERS Act which will amend the Controlled Substances Act to allow for the possession, production and distribution of medical marijuana in states with established marijuana laws. This would be the beginning of the end of the federal war on drugs and usher in a new era of states rights’ when it comes to drug law.
If the CARERS Act passes it will be the strongest blow to the war on drugs since Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana. In fact, this could very well be much more consequential. Colorado and Washington’s actions were huge steps but they were still at the state level. They had no legal effect on the federal war on drugs and the federal government’s Schedule 1 classification of marijuana. Federal prohibition hinges on the Controlled Substances Act classification because it’s what gives the DEA their authority.
The government initially enforced federal prohibition liberally after states legalized marijuana. During the first four years of the Obama administration 270 medical marijuana facilities were raided. Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher put a stop to that by proposing an amendment that prohibited federal funds from being spent on enforcing the federal prohibition of medical marijuana. While that was an important first step, it wasn’t nearly as far reaching as the CARERS Act because it didn’t change the existing law. The Rohrabacher amendment only prevented federal law from being enforced.
Rand Paul’s bill to legalize medical marijuana will finally close the issue for good. The CARERS Act will amend the Controlled Substances Act and prevent the federal government from interfering with state medical marijuana law once and for all. That means no more DEA raids on clinics within the 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana, period. The federal government’s war on medical marijuana would end for good. In addition, the CARERS Act will also open the doors for the Veterans Administration to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans.
Unfortunately, the 2017 version of the CARERS Act has been watered down from its original form. The new version of the CARERS Act won’t reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II or provide any of the important protection for banks and financial institutions that do business with marijuana providers. While those were major parts of the original legislation, they were also major sticking points that prevented the legislation from gaining the support it needed to advance.
Removing those planks will hopefully increase the legislation’s bipartisan appeal. If the new version of Rand Paul’s CARERS Act passes it would be a legislative milestone. Just as medical marijuana legalization at the state level paved the way for recreational marijuana legalization this bill will do the same at the federal level.