As the new Congress convened and was sworn in Thursday, Jan. 3 on Capitol Hill, a few bills were introduced by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, who represents Tennessee’s 9th District, along with other lawmakers from across the aisle. 

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Don Young (R-AK) introduced bipartisan legislation that would allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies and permit doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe it for chronic conditions. 

The bill, called the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, also would allow patients to have access to medical marijuana in states where marijuana is already legal without fear of federal prosecution.

The CARERS Act would not legalize medical marijuana in all 50 states, but would respect the states’ decisions to legalize medical marijuana and would prevent federal law enforcement from prosecuting patients, doctors, and caregivers in those states. 

“The national consensus on medical marijuana is solid and bipartisan, but our federal drug laws continue to treat patients and their doctors like criminals,” Congressman Cohen said in an official statement. “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. I am pleased to join with Congressman Young in introducing this important legislation in the House, and I want to thank Senator Booker and the bipartisan Senate coalition for its leadership on this issue.”

The introduction of the CARERS Act bill follows the bipartisan, bicameral support for similar legislation last Congress: 115th – H.R. 2920, which was introduced by Reps. Cohen and Young, and 115th – S.  1764, introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Al Franken (D-Minnesota), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).  

Congressman Young made the following statement on Jan. 3:

“I’m hopeful that this is going to be a productive Congress regarding the debate over national cannabis policy. Important components such as protecting medical cannabis, access to CBD, expanding research opportunities, and allowing veterans access are provisions in the CARERS Act which I’m proud to cosponsor with Congressman Steve Cohen. This is 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 look forward to promoting this legislation and other measures to protect the rights of states and individuals.”

Senator Booker also released this Jan. 3 statement:

“Our federal marijuana laws are broken—they don’t make us safer, they waste taxpayer dollars, and they lack both common sense and compassion,” said Senator Booker. “By ensuring that states are able to set their own medical marijuana policies, the CARERS Act will help ensure access to treatment for those who benefit from medical marijuana – from children suffering from chronic illnesses to veterans battling PTSD.”

According to the National Cannabis Industry Association, which hosts an updated interactive map that provides states’ basic information on marijuana legalities, Tennessee abides very limited use of cannabis, in that a 2015 bill allows a person who obtained cannabis oil lawfully in another state to possess it in Tennessee, as long as it contains less than 0.9% THC, with no minimum amount of CBD required.