Congressional lawmakers have filed new marijuana amendments to a package of legislation to fund parts of the federal government for the next year, including a bipartisan proposal to block the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from preventing military veterans from using medical cannabis while allowing its doctors to fill out recommendations for patients who want to participate in state programs.
Other amendments would prohibit the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from enforcing a ban on state-legal marijuana activity for people who live in federally assisted housing. Another proposal would transfer funds from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the National Forest System to “support enforcement and remediation of illegal marijuana trespass grow sites on federal land.”
House Appropriations Committee leaders have included a plethora of cannabis and psychedelics provisions in spending bills and attached reports for various federal agencies this session, and now these additional proposals are being offered ahead of a House Rules Committee meeting, where lawmakers will determine what amendments will be made in order for floor consideration.
A key amendment that’s being sponsored by all four Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs and nine other bipartisan lawmakers concerns the bill that funds VA. It combines two pieces of standalone legislation—the Safe Harbor Act from Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) and the Veterans Equal Access Act from Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Lee.
It would would prohibit the use of VA funds to prevent veterans from using medical cannabis in compliance with state or tribal law and allow VA doctors to issue recommendations for medical marijuana. It also specifically includes related language barring the department from using its appropriated dollars to penalize VA workers who provide such recommendations to patients. (Read the full text of the amendment at the bottom of this article.)
“There is a growing body of evidence about the beneficial uses of medical cannabis as treatment for PTSD and chronic pain, two terrible conditions that plague many of our veterans,” Joyce said. “If a state has made it legal, like Ohio has, the federal government should not be preventing a veteran from accessing it, especially if a VA doctor believes that treatment is right for their patient. I’m proud to have my fellow co-chairs join me in leading this effort, which proves there is strong, bipartisan support behind allowing increased medical cannabis access for veterans, and encourage the Rules Committee to rule our amendment in order.”
The language from Blumenauer’s Veterans Equal Access Act was also separately filed and made in order in the Rules Committee on Tuesday for floor consideration as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The House is set to begin debate on that and other drug policy-related amendments to the defense bill on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, another pair of newly posted appropriations amendments from Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Blumenauer and Lee focus on HUD marijuana policies. One would provide housing protections for medical cannabis patients, while the other more broadly covers any type of state-legal marijuana use in federally assisted housing.
Here’s the text of the medical cannabis housing amendment:
“SEC. 420. None of the funds made available under this division to the Department of Housing and Urban Development may be used to enforce the prohibitions, under sections 3(b)(9), 6(l)(9), and 8(f)(5) of the United States Housing Act of 1937 (42 U.S.C. 1437a(b)(9), 1437d(l)(9), 1437f(f)(5)) and sections 576, 577(a), and 579(a)(1) of the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998 (42 U.S.C. 13661, 13662(a), 13664(a)(1)), on the possession or use of medical marijuana in federally assisted housing in Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, the Virgin Islands, Washington, and West Virginia.”
Here’s the other measure, which contains fewer states because it focuses on recreational cannabis policy:
“SEC. 420. None of the funds made available under this division to the Department of Housing and Urban Development may be used to enforce sections 3(b)(9), 6(k), 4 6(l), 6(n), 8(b), 8(d), 8(o)(6)(C), and 8(o)(7)(D) of the United States Housing Act of 1937 (42 U.S.C. 1437a(b)(9), 1437d(k), 1437d(l), 1437d(n), 1437f(c), 1437f(d), 1437f(o)(6)(C), 1437f(o)(7)(D)) and sections 576(b), 577(a), and 579(a)(1) of the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998 (42 U.S.C. 13661(b), 13662(a), 13664(a)(1)) with respect to the possession or use of marijuana in Alaska, Arizona, California, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Guam, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, or Washington.”
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“The Department of Housing and Urban Development should not be allowed to remove people from their homes or otherwise punish them if they follow the marijuana laws of their jurisdictions,” Norton said in a press release on Wednesday. “More and more states are moving toward legalization of marijuana, especially of medical marijuana.”
I filed two amendments at the Rules Committee to the FY23 housing appropriations bill to allow marijuana in federally assisted housing in jurisdictions where it's already legal.
— Eleanor #DCStatehood Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) July 13, 2022
“It is time for HUD to allow marijuana in federally assisted housing in jurisdictions where it is legal, particularly where medical marijuana is legal,” the congresswoman said. “Nobody should be evicted for following the law and the advice of their doctors.”
HUD said last year in a letter to the congresswoman that it is required to continue denying federally assisted housing to people who use marijuana, even if they’re acting in compliance with state law.
Holmes Norton sent a letter to HUD Sec. Marcia Fudge last year imploring the department to use executive discretion and not punish people over cannabis in legal states. But HUD’s response was clear: It said that “consistent with federal law, HUD prohibits the admission of users of marijuana to HUD assisted housing, including those who use medical marijuana.”
A former Trump-appointed HUD official with the department’s regional official overseeing New York and New Jersey did say in 2018 that she was working to resolve conflicting federal and state marijuana laws as it applies to residency in federally-subsidized housing—but nothing apparently came from that.
Meanwhile, Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) has a separate amendment that address environmental remediation of illicit cannabis grows on federal lands. This has been a consistent theme for the congressman, who got some publicity last year after teaming up with local California police to bulldoze illegal marijuana grow sites.
LaMalfa has repeatedly addressed the issue in House floor speeches over recent years, urging the federal government to provide additional resources to help states get rid of illicit marijuana grows. And he’s also filed legislation to to give resources to law enforcement to eradicate illegal marijuana grows on public lands, increase fines and penalties for such cultivation and establish a fund to restore land damaged by that activity.
The text of the congressman’s amendment to the appropriations minibus doesn’t explicitly reference cannabis, simply making technical changes to funding allocations already in the bill. But the description of the measure says that the intent is to “support enforcement and remediation of illegal marijuana trespass grow sites on federal lands, including for the clean-up of toxic waste and chemicals at these sites.”
The funding bill where these amendments are being filed are set for consideration in the Rules Committee next week. In all, they cover Fiscal Year 2023 funding for the Departments of Transportation, HUD, Agriculture, Rural Development, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government (FSGG), Interior, Environment, Military Construction, and Veterans Affairs.
A report for the Interior that was released earlier this month similarly about efforts to combat illicit marijuana grow operations on public lands in California that pose environmental and public safety risks. The committee voiced support for partnerships between federal agencies and state, local and tribal governments related to “survey, reclamation, and prevention efforts to the maximum extent possible” to mitigate such issues. Also, the report expresses support for the Interior Department’s use of drones to identify illicit marijuana farms.
Over the past couple weeks, the Appropriations Committee has filed legislation covering issues such as cannabis research barriers, impaired driving and preventing use by youth and pregnant people. Lawmakers recently secured an amendment providing wide-ranging protections for all state, U.S. territory and tribal marijuana programs, building on existing safeguards for medical cannabis programs.
Additional appropriations language encourages sports regulators to push international officials to “change how cannabis is treated” when it comes to suspending athletes from competition over positive tests. Another report also more broadly addresses drug testing requirement for federal workers, as previous versions have done in the past.
Meanwhile, in an education spending bill, there’s again a section that would prevent the Department of Education from penalizing universities simply because the institutions are conducting research into marijuana. A different set of spending bills and reports that were recently released call for protections for immigrants who use cannabis, freeing up marijuana-related advertising and providing the industry with access to the banking system.
Additionally, there are also appropriations provisions covering kratom’s medical potential, as well as several sections encouraging the use of hemp as an environmentally sustainable and cost-effective alternative to plastics that were spearheaded by Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH).
Importantly, it remains to be seen whether the Senate will accept any of the House-led cannabis and drug policy proposals. Senate appropriators have not yet released their spending bills for FY23, and typically wait until after the House has acted, so it’s not yet clear which issues will ultimately get reconciled by the two chambers and adopted into law.
On the House side, however, there seems to be stronger support for enacting drug policy reform through large-scale legislative vehicles this session. For example, the Rules Committee on Tuesday approved nine marijuana and psychedelics amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), clearing them for floor consideration.
Here’s the text of the veterans and cannabis amendment:
“SEC. ll. (a) Notwithstanding the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.), the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (21 U.S.C. 951 et seq.), or any other Federal law, none of the funds made available in this Act may be used to prohibit—
(1) a veteran to use, possess, or transport medical marijuana in a State or on Indian land if the use, possession, or transport is authorized and in accordance with the law of the applicable State or Indian Tribe;
(2) a physician to discuss with a veteran the use of medical marijuana as a treatment if the physician is in a State or on Indian land where the law of the applicable State or Indian Tribe authorizes the use, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, delivery, and transport of medical marijuana; or
(3) a physician to recommend, complete forms for, or register veterans for participation in a treatment program involving medical marijuana that is approved by the law of the applicable State or Indian Tribe.
(b) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, none of the funds made available in this Act may be used to penalize physicians and other health care providers employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs who—
(1) provide recommendations and opinions to veterans who are residents of States with State marijuana programs regarding the participation of veterans in such State marijuana programs; and
(2) complete forms reflecting such recommendations and opinions.
(c) In this section, the term ‘‘State’’ means each of the several States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, any territory or possession of the United States, and each federally recognized Indian Tribe.”
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.