Bipartisan congressional lawmakers have filed a slew of drug policy reform amendments to a large-scale defense bill, including proposals to prohibit federal employment discrimination against veterans who use marijuana, provide funding for studies into psychedelics as therapeutics and allow U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to recommend medical cannabis to veterans.
Each of the amendments are being filed for House Rules Committee consideration ahead of floor action on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Some of the measures are similar to past proposals, but lawmakers seem especially bullish about enacting drug policy reforms through the must-pass bill this session.
For example, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and a bipartisan list of cosponsors filed a familiar amendment to codify that VA doctors can “assist veterans in providing recommendations, opinions, and completion of the forms” to become state-legal medical cannabis patients.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), sponsor of a GOP-led legalization bill, has a measure that would similarly provide VA doctors with that authority—but her amendment also goes a step further by prohibiting federal employers from discriminating against veterans who use, or have used, cannabis.
Two marijuana-related amendments have already been attached to NDAA following approval in the House Armed Services Committee. And other members are now working to build upon those proposals.
One of the already-included amendments, sponsored by Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD), concerns cannabis sentencing standards under military code, mandating that the Military Justice Review Panel “develop recommendations specifying appropriate sentencing ranges for offenses involving the use and possession of marijuana.”
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) filed a new measure to expand that proposal by further requiring DOD to study the “historically discriminatory manner in which laws related to marijuana offenses have been enforced, the potential for the continued discriminatory application of the law (whether intentional or unintentional), and recommendations for actions that can be taken to minimize the risk of such discrimination.”
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Meanwhile, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) had an amendment approved in committee that would require DOD to research marijuana as an opioid alternative for military members with certain health conditions. Two lawmakers—Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL)—recently filed separate but substantively identical measure to expand that research objective by also including psilocybin and MDMA.
Another lawmaker and veteran himself, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), has also taken an interest in psychedelics policy as part of NDAA. For the second year in a row, he’s proposing an amendment to the defense bill that would allow the secretary of defense to approve grants for research into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics such as MDMA, psilocybin, ibogaine and 5–MeO–DMT for active duty military members with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Rules Committee did not make the earlier version of that measure in order for floor consideration last year, and the text does not appear to have been revised since then, so it remains to be seen whether the panel will approach it differently this round.
Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) also filed a new amendment that aligns with her past reform efforts. The measure would prohibit VA from denying veterans its home loan benefits solely because they derive income from a state-legal marijuana business.
The House approved an earlier version of the amendment, but the provision was removed from the final package following bicameral negotiations after the Senate didn’t include similar language in its version of the NDAA.
In a recently released report or Fiscal Year 2023 funding that comes from the House Appropriations Committee, leadership included a section saying that it recognizes that the department has taken steps to clarify home loan benefit policy under VA, and it’s working with lenders “to improve communication with eligible lending institutions to reduce confusion.”
Another newly refiled amendment to NDAA, which is again being sponsored by Ocasio-Cortez, would to prohibit the use of funds for aerial fumigation on drug crops in Colombia, a practice widely criticized by reform and human rights advocates.
Advocates and industry stakeholders are also pleased to see that Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) is again seeking to attach a bipartisan cannabis banking reform legislation as an amendment to the defense bill. This follows congressional leadership agreeing not to include the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in a separate, large-scale manufacturing bill that’s being considered by a bicameral conference committee.
Additionally, there’s a recently filed amendment filed for NDAA that seeks to eliminate the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, similar to a standalone bill that cleared the House but has yet to advance in the Senate despite significant bipartisan support in the chamber. It appears that lawmakers view the defense bill as the best vehicle to get the reform enacted into law at this point.
All of the various drug policy proposals must be made in order by the Rules Committee before potentially receiving House floor consideration. That panel will decide which submitted amendments can be cleared at an upcoming meeting that has not yet been scheduled but is expected to happen next week.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan bill to provide military veterans with access to medical marijuana was reintroduced in Congress last month, with Blumeanuer and Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) as the chief sponsors.
The reform, which is identical to committee-approved versions from past years and also cosponsored by Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), was previously pursued through the appropriations process as an amendment.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.