The 116th Congress went into session just days into 2019 and a bipartisan marijuana reform bill has already been introduced in the House.
Reps. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee, and Don Young, a Republican from Alaska, re-introduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act on Jan. 3, 2019, as one of their first acts in the new session. The legislation would let states establish their own medical cannabis programs free of federal intervention and also allow physicians at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to issue medical cannabis recommendations for veterans.
“The national consensus on medical marijuana is solid and bipartisan, but our federal drug laws continue to treat patients and their doctors like criminals,” Cohen said in a press release. “Our bill would bring federal medical marijuana policy in line with the views of the overwhelming majority of Americans by allowing states to set their own marijuana laws, allowing patients, including veterans, to receive the treatments they need from their doctors and improving opportunities for research on marijuana.”
Young said that the bill represents “the kind of bipartisan effort that doesn't happen every day but should serve as an example of how we can solve the problems that our constituents have sent us here to do.
“I'm hopeful that this is going to be a productive Congress regarding the debate over national cannabis policy.”
The CARERS Act was first introduced in 2015 and again in 2017 — by Cohen in the House and Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey in the Senate. During the 114th Congress, Cohen's bill received 43 co-sponsors, and during the last session, it had 30 co-sponsors.
The Senate bill also saw fewer cosponsors last Congress than in the prior one, perhaps a reflection that its backers have in the intervening years focused more on building support for now-achievable broader marijuana reform instead of the narrowly tailored medical cannabis fix.
Asked for a copy of the new bill's text, Cohen communication director Bartholomew Sullivan referred Marijuana Moment to the prior version. The spokesperson did not immediately respond to a follow-up question about whether the pieces of legislation are identical or if this new version differs, as was the case for past versions; the 114th Congress bill included provisions touching on rescheduling and banking access for cannabis businesses, but those were removed last time.
Booker is also quoted in Cohen's press release, saying that existing “federal marijuana laws are broken — they don't make us safer, they waste taxpayer dollars, and they lack both common sense and compassion.”
The senator's communications director told Marijuana Moment that the new version of the CARERS Act hasn't yet been filed in the Senate but that it will be introduced “soon.”