Booker and Gillibrand Call for Compassion

03/17/2015 09:30 am ET | Updated May 17, 2015

Senators Corey Booker (D, NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D, NY) stopped by the Manhattan office of the Drug Policy Alliance Sunday afternoon to promote their new bill, "The CARERS act".  Marijuana is currently a schedule 1 drug, the same as heroin; The CARERS act would reclassify marijuana as a schedule 2 drug, which opens up a whole host of applications that can be beneficial.

The room was filled with parents of children inflicted with debilitating forms of epilepsy, all impervious to available treatments and dreadfully impactful on their young lives. One fifth grade girl eloquently spoke about not being able to have a sleep over because she might have a seizure. Her mother later told the audience that her daughter's disorder is currently being treated with benzodiazepines, which are offering little relief.  One mother tearfully told the story of having to sit and watch her daughter continually seize until she ultimately died a year ago.

Will cannabis help? The short answer is, it might. As long as Marijuana remains a schedule 1 drug, the science and ability to research the efficacy of treating epilepsy with cannabis derivatives is unknown. While it may or may not help, it wont hurt. It is clear that cannabis is less egregious than benzodiazepines, which are highly addictive and have other side effects debilitating to the life of a child. So while it may not help, it won't hurt and it could be worth a try but it's not an available option under the current legal structure. Due to criminalization,  benefits of treatment with cannabis is not even a conversation a parent can have with their doctor. In short, a doctor can prescribe Xanax to a child but not marijuana, which means these children with this terrible disease are being treated by the DEA, not their doctors. Speaking to the parents, Senator Booker said, "We say to the criminalization of our citizens, enough is enough."

In actual lives and daily living, what does this mean? It means that desperate parents seeking relief for a suffering child could be subject to child protective services scrutiny. In theory, the child could be taken and placed in foster care if CPS found the child were being administered marijuana. Some of the children present were receiving skilled nursing services in their home; the nurses could lose their license if they administered marijuana. They can however, dose them with Xanax and valium with no fear of arrest or loss of license.  Asked if this bill needed the support of the White House office of national drug control policy, Senator Booker replied, "If we can get this through the house and senate and to the president, we will be in great shape, this is an issue of justice". Senator Gillibrand echoed those comments: "It's a matter of misunderstanding that there are medicinal purposes that can be derived from this plant."