Congressional Committee Cancels Votes On Marijuana Bills For Veterans
House committee votes on two bills concerning medical marijuana and military veterans that were scheduled for Wednesday have been cancelled, with the chair of the panel planning to hold a later hearing on the legislation instead.
The reasoning behind the cancellation isn’t entirely clear, nor is it known at this point when the hearing will be held.
One of the bills would have allowed U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to recommend medical cannabis to patients in states where it is legal and also codified into law a current administrative policy that protects veterans from losing their VA benefits over marijuana use The other proposal would require VA to conduct clinical trials on the benefits of cannabis in the treatment of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee included both pieces legislation in a list of bills that were scheduled for a markup on Wednesday.
The cannabis bills were already debated during a House veterans health subcommittee hearing last week, with VA officials coming out against the proposals.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) sponsored a third piece of legislation that was also discussed at the hearing but did not end up on the agenda for the full committee hearing. His bill would have specifically allowed for VA physicians to issue medical cannabis recommendations—a policy that is also included the VA benefits legislation that was expected to get a vote.
“This isn’t rocket science. We passed this bill as an amendment in 2016 with a Republican majority,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment. “With the most pro-cannabis Congress in history, we are poised to make significant progress on our blueprint to end cannabis prohibition.”
Blumenauer’s “blueprint” to ending the federal prohibition on cannabis is a memo he sent House Democratic leaders last year urging a committee-focused approach toward advancing incremental reform proposals in the build up to comprehensive changes to the country’s marijuana laws.
“This bill is the logical next step,” he said, of his Veterans Equal Access Act. “I will continue to make the case that was made to me a little over five years ago by courageous veterans in Portland, who expressed to me their desire to access cannabis to treat chronic pain. They deserve better.”
The broader bill with the VA physician recommendation language and benefits protection provisions was going to be marked up on Wednesday as an amendment in the nature of a substitute, with some minor additions, that was introduced by the committee chairman, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA).
There are few details available about the standalone committee hearing on cannabis that’s in the works, though staffers from two congressional offices said they were told it would happen at some point in the future.
A committee spokesperson said that Takano had received bipartisan input from members of the panel, prompting him to pull the bills from the markup with the intention of allowing more lawmakers to weigh in on the proposals before votes are held.
“In light of bipartisan feedback and renewed interest from committee members, the chairman has withdrawn the bills from tomorrow’s markup and plans to dedicate time exclusively to this topic in the future to allow more voices to be heard,” the spokesperson said.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a vocal critic of the House Democratic majority’s focus on investigating the Trump administration, criticized the move to cancel the legislative votes in a Twitter post.
So much investigating.
So little legislating.
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) May 7, 2019
The bills, if approved by the committee, would have been the second and third pieces of marijuana-related legislation to advance in the 116th Congress. In March, a cannabis banking bill cleared a separate House panel.
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This story has been updated to add comments from Blumenauer and Gaetz.