By Jill Osborn
The federal CARERS Act was introduced in a bipartisan effort by Senators Booker, Gillibrand and Paul on March 10th. 2015. (CARERS is short for Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act of 2015.) CARERS was recently featured in “Weed 3” on CNN, the third installment in Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s ongoing series.
As the mother of a child with a severe seizure disorder, who actively advocates for cannabis medicine, I was besieged with messages from excited friends and family members about the CARERS act after Weed 3 aired. Finally, it seems a step toward federally addressing the absurd situation we have placed cannabis patients in.
It would be easy to assume that I, a mother who watches my child suffer life threatening seizures every single day, would support CARERS. Many in the cannabis community have called it progress and justify baby steps toward the ultimate goal of access for all patients. It surprises many that I don’t support it, and I disagree with the concept that this is progress. It is change, but change and progress are not the same thing.
This CARERS Act seeks to move cannabis out of the Schedule 1 status that it currently maintains. Schedule 1 substances are defined by the Department of Justice as having “no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.” CARERS calls for cannabis to be rescheduled to Schedule 2 status, the same class as cocaine, Dilaudid and Oxycontin. Unlike cannabis and other Schedule 1 substances, drugs in Schedule 2 can be prescribed under strict conditions.
While CARERS claims to protect states’ rights on cannabis legislation, imposing Schedule 2 standards would mean that dispensaries and doctors are entering entirely new territory, where prescriptions will have to be written for exact dosages and methods of ingestion. And it could destroy the dispensary system as we know it if they are required to adhere to schedule 2 standards. This could leave patients once again without access to whole-plant medicines.
CARERS also only cites “medical” marijuana, leaving responsible adult consumers in states that have passed recreational laws without further protection. The move to Schedule 2 without more clarification of how to continue access for patients and social users leaves far too much ambiguity and interpretation, leaving people still unprotected and vulnerable. Our government does not allow patients to manufacture their own Schedule 2 cocaine or opiate-based medicines; it does not seem likely that they would continue to tolerate patients growing their own cannabis, particularly given the objection from pharmaceutical companies that invest a lot of money into meeting Schedule 2 standards for their products.
A move to Schedule 2 would however open the door for pharmaceutical research; in fact the Act itself specifically states that within one year the DEA must issue 3 licenses for cannabis research. We cannot equate access for pharmaceutical research to access for patients. When we stop to consider the number of conditions and patients utilizing cannabis and having “anecdotal” success with Alzheimer’s, MS, epilepsy, PTSD, dystonia, migraines, lupus, chronic pain, cancer, the issuance of 3 research licenses is paltry. You can call it a baby step perhaps, but for patients with expiration dates and high risk of fatality it may be more of a lateral move from which they will see no benefit.
CARERS also seeks to define cannabidiol, or CBD, one of the many cannabinoids found within the cannabis plant, as separate from cannabis. But you cannot separate CBD from cannabis any more than you can separate vitamin C from oranges. They co-exist, they are one. When will we admit that THC is medicine too? When will we acknowledge that prescription drugs get people high every day? Why do we continue to hold cannabis to a higher standard than pharmaceuticals? (Pun totally intended.) This push to vilify THC and deny its therapeutic agency is an injustice to the patients and people utilizing it.
So before you celebrate CARERS please read it for yourself, read the fine print. I will be voicing my displeasure with a bill that seems aimed more toward pharmaceutical access than patient access. I assert that legislative baby steps do more harm than good when the majority of people are calling for strides. The CARERS Act leaves patientsin limbo, while giving Big Pharma the opportunity to find ways to profit from the potential healing properties of this plant. It is nothing more than business as usual–the “politics and profits over patients” mentality that has plagued this medicine for decades. CARERS doesn’t really seem to care about the patients.
Jill Osborn is an activist but more importantly a mom. She began advocating for cannabis in 2012 with the MA medical use ballot initiative. She documents her journey as a Mom and activist on her blog titled Seizing Hope. She has been published in Ladybud and Skunk magazines and appeared in Skunk’s Women of Weed issue 2015. She has a daughter with a severe seizure disorder and fully understands the hardships that families’ face balancing the demands of a disabled child and fighting for cannabis access. Jill is the MA chapter coordinator and families outreach director for Parents 4 Pot and also serves on the MassCann/NORML board. She likes to remind legislators and the public alike that kids are patients too.