Two bills focusing on medical marijuana access for military veterans are scheduled to be voted on by a congressional committee on Wednesday.
The development comes one week after the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on the legislation.
One bill up for consideration would allow U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to veterans and would also codify into law a current administrative policy that shields veterans from being stripped of their VA benefits for using marijuana in compliance with state law.
The other proposal would require VA to conduct clinical trials on the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for conditions that commonly afflict veterans, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
A third marijuana bill that was discussed during last week’s subcommittee hearing will not be marked up at this point. That legislation, sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenaeuer (D-OR), focused solely on allowing VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to veterans, but its language is largely already included in one of the bills now set to be marked up this week by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) introduced the broader bill, called the Veterans Cannabis Use for Safe Healing Act. Its text is set to be replaced with an amendment in the nature of a substitute from the committee chairman, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA).
The new version is mostly identical to Steube’s original bill, with two changes. When VA doctors and their patients discuss state-legal marijuana consumption, veterans’ usage couldn’t be recorded in their health records “as a substance use disorder,” the legislation clarifies. The chairman’s substitute also includes a provision calling on the VA secretary to “establish new diagnostic codes that are uniquely applicable to cannabis use.”
Several witnesses who testified at last week’s subcommittee hearing voiced opposition to the recommendation proposal, with VA representatives saying they couldn’t support it because of guidance they received from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Another witness representing the advocacy organization Veterans of Foreign Wars said that while the group supports the intent of the legislation, it could not offer its endorsement because veterans wouldn’t be able to access medical cannabis directly from VA health providers and would instead have to take their VA-issued recommendations to marijuana dispensaries until federal law is more broadly changed.
The anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) was invited to submit written testimony to the subcommittee ahead of the hearing, but a congressional staffer told Marijuana Moment that the group declined to do so after initially accepting the invitation, for reasons that aren’t clear. Marijuana Moment reached out to SAM for comment, but a representative did not immediately respond.
“The Veterans Affairs Committee has the unique obligation to ensure the health and well being of those who have served our country,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “Medical cannabis is here to stay in the U.S. and the time to stop forcing veterans into the underground marketplace is now.”
Wednesday’s markup session represents another sign of marijuana reform’s growing momentum in Congress after a cannabis banking bill cleared a separate House committee in March. That legislation would shield protect that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal financial regulators and is expected to be considered on the House floor within the next several weeks.
It also reflects progress on Blumenauer’s “blueprint” to ending the federal prohibition on cannabis. The congressman’s plan urged committee leaders to take ownership of certain reform proposals and advance them to the floor, with the end goal being comprehensive changes to the country’s marijuana laws.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Trump Says Marijuana Makes People “Lose IQ Points” In Secret Recording
President Trump could be heard saying that using marijuana makes people “lose IQ points” in a secretly recorded conversation released on Saturday.
“In Colorado they have more accidents,” the president said in the clip captured by Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani, who is at the center of the Ukraine scandal that led to the president’s impeachment. “It does cause an IQ problem.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of YouTube/White House.
Austin Police Chief Says Marijuana Arrests Will Continue Despite City Council Vote
Chief Brian Manley said he would continue to enforce marijuana laws the day after the city council unanimously approved stopping arrests and tickets for low-level cases.
The day after the Austin City Council approved a resolution to stop arresting or ticketing people for most low-level marijuana possession offenses, the police chief made clear he had no plans to do so.
“[Marijuana] is still illegal, and we will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community,” Chief Brian Manley said during a news conference Friday afternoon.
Though cracking down on those in possession of small amounts of marijuana has never been a priority for the department, he said, police will continue to either issue tickets under the city’s “cite-and-release” policy or arrest people if officers “come across it.”
The difference, according to City Council member and resolution sponsor Greg Casar, is that the council’s move now guarantees those actions will come with no penalty. Tickets will be meaningless pieces of paper and any arrests will result in a quick release with no charges accepted from prosecutors, he told The Texas Tribune after the news conference.
“What has changed since yesterday is that enforcement, almost in virtually all cases, is now handing someone a piece of paper with no penalty or no court date,” Casar said.
The move by the City Council came as a direct result from Texas’ new hemp law which complicated marijuana prosecution across the state. Last summer, when lawmakers legalized hemp, they also changed the definition of marijuana from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.
Many prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, now won’t accept pot cases based on look and smell alone, requiring lab testing to determine THC levels before accepting a case. Such testing is not yet available in public crime labs, though some counties and cities have spent money to obtain test results from private labs.
The council’s resolution prohibited using city funds or personnel to conduct such testing in non-felony marijuana cases. It also directed the elimination, to the furthest extent possible, of arrests or citations for cannabis possession. As Manley also noted, the resolution clarifies it can’t technically decriminalize marijuana, since that is state law.
The resolution gave the city manager until May 1 to report back to the council on how police were trained in this new resolution, and Casar said he hopes Manley reviews his policies before then.
Manley said in the news conference that he would continue to review the resolution, as well as police policies.
But, he assured, “a City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce a state law.”
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans
Andrew Yang says he wants to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for military veterans to help them combat mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
During a town hall event at an Iowa college on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked whether he would take initiative and allow veterans to access medical marijuana if elected. Yang replied he “will be so excited to be that commander-in-chief” that he would not only end federal cannabis prohibition but would go one step further by legalizing the psychedelic fungus for veterans as well.
“We need to get marijuana off of the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level, make it freely available,” he said. “I say this because I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans and other Americans who benefit from marijuana as a pain relief treatment, and it’s much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”
“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” he added. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well. Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it.”
Yang’s drug policy reform platform is unique in that respect. While the majority of Democratic candidates support marijuana legalization, he’s pushed unique proposals such as decriminalizing possession of opioids and making psilocybin mushrooms “more freely available” for therapeutic purposes. The candidate also wants to invest federal funds in safe injection facilities where individuals can use prohibited drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive help getting into treatment.
He hasn’t gone so far as embracing the decriminalization of all drugs, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has, however.
That said, Yang did signal that he’s open to legalizing and regulating “certain drugs” beyond cannabis, which he argued would disrupt international drug cartels. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) recently said she backs “legalizing and regulating” currently illegal controlled substances to protect public safety and combat the illicit market.
At the Iowa town hall, Yang went on to say that he’s particularly interested in legalizing marijuana, and he again pledged to “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent marijuana-related offense because they shouldn’t be in jail for something that’s frankly legal in other parts of the country.”
“And I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021, high-five them on the way out of jail and be like, ‘things got a lot better in the last year,'” he said, referencing the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.