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Congress Debates Medical Marijuana For Cops

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A powerful Congressional committee just held a nearly 30-minute debate on a measure calling on federal agencies to study the use of medical marijuana by police officers.

“The federal government has lied to the American people for a generation about cannabis,” Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL), the amendment’s sponsor, said during the lengthy discussion in a U.S. House Judiciary Committee meeting on Thursday. “There is substantial evidence that indicates that there is a case to be made for the medical efficacy of cannabis in the treatment of mental health and particularly PTSD.”

The stated goal of the overarching legislation, the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act of 2017, is to “protect the mental health and well-being of law enforcement officers” and requires the U.S. attorney general to consult with the secretary of defense and the secretary of veterans affairs to author a report on mental health practices and services that could be adopted by police agencies across the country.

Gaetz’s amendment would have required that the report examine “Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs mental health practices and services, including medical cannabis treatment on mental health, that could be adopted by Federal, State, local, or tribal law enforcement agencies.”

During the debate, Gaetz decried what he called an “idiotic, indefensible policy in this country where we list cannabis as a Schedule I drug.”

The Controlled Substance Act’s Schedule I — the most restrictive category — is supposed to be reserved for drugs with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. Researchers have long complained that marijuana’s classification there creates additional hurdles that don’t exist for studies on other substances.

Heroin and LSD are also in Schedule I alongside cannabis, yet cocaine and methamphetamine are classified in the less restrictive Schedule II category.

A number of other members from both parties spoke during the hearing about a shared desire to increase studies on marijuana’s medical benefits, but several voiced concerns that the law enforcement legislation was not the most appropriate vehicle to address the issue.

Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), for example, referred to a separate bill that Gaetz has been drafting in consultation with Judiciary Committee staff which would change regulations that currently block expanded medical cannabis research, saying that he supports that effort.

Gaetz said his amendment requiring federal officials to include medical marijuana in the law enforcement report is necessary because the Department of Justice has been “totally nonresponsive” to requests from members of Congress to modernize its approach to the drug. He also said the Department of Veterans Affairs has a “gag rule” on letting its doctors discuss medical cannabis with their patients.

And, he expressed some frustration that Judiciary Committee staff hasn’t moved as quickly on helping him draft the broader research legislation as he would like.

Nonetheless, Gaetz withdrew the amendment without forcing a vote in the hopes that Congressional leadership is serious about working with him to remove research roadblocks through standalone legislation.

“Our policies should follow the science and not this ridiculous, antiquated dogma perpetuated by lies through the federal government,” he said.

Last week, Gaetz gave a speech on the House floor about how medical cannabis can help people with breast cancer.

See the full text of Gaetz’s marijuana amendment below:

Matt Gaetz Marijuana Amendment by tomangell on Scribd

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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