Congress Reconsiders Regulating Cannabis Use

By: Theodore J. Griswold | Partner |
Stephanie Conduff | Law Clerk |

Bipartisan legislation introduced this week in the U.S. Senate initiates a change to federal law, S.B. 683, would regulate the medical use of marijuana without fear of prosecution. The CARERS Act which stands for the The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act joins a similar House bill introduced in February, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol with a similar intent.

The CARERS Act authorizes physicians to prescribe cannabis for veterans receiving care in Veteran’s Administration (VA) medical facilities. Because these sites are federal, medical marijuana use is currently prohibited at the VA even in states that allow cannabis use by prescription or for recreational uses. This would give veterans another option for seizures and pain management. Congressional staffers say this provision could secure additional bipartisan support.

The bill is silent on its impact on Indian Health Service policies.

One major aspect of the Senate bill, S.B. 683, is to remove cannabis from a Schedule I classified drug on the Controlled Substances Act. The reclassification to Schedule II, shifts cannabis from a federally-criminalized substance to one that has recognized medical uses.

The Senate bill also empowers the financial industry to conduct business with dispensaries, growers, and manufactures that are currently without viable options in banking because of the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970. Without such empowerment, there are major logistical issues for those involved in the industry because of the copious amount of cash that cannot be deposited because of federal regulations prohibiting the banking industry for working with those in the cannabis sector. However, this bill would create a safer environment for the public. Currently there are cannabis businesses keeping large amounts of cash on hand because of bank depositing limitations, or move large amounts of money by private cars from point A to point B, creating public safety issues for citizen in case of targeted robberies.

The full text of S.B. 683 is available here.

Indian Country will have to lobby Congress for similar treatment to the VA and it is unclear how Congress will treat Indian Country. However, the inclusion of tribal governments within states that eased regulation for cannabis use aligns with the 2014 Department of Justice Memorandum addressing enforcement in Indian Country.

Procopio is in a position to assist tribal governments work through these questions.

Please subscribe to our blog and you will be notified of an upcoming blog post on the: Social, Political and Cultural Ramifications of Marijuana Legalization in Indian Country.

Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at and 619.515.3277.

Stephanie Conduff, a tribal citizen, works with tribal governments and citizens on Capitol Hill on issues of regulation, self-governance, and self-determination.