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First Senate Marijuana Bill Of 2019 Would Force Study On Medical Cannabis For Veterans

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The first Senate marijuana bill of the new Congress focuses on increasing research on the medical benefits of cannabis for military veterans.

The legislation, introduced by Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) on Thursday, would direct the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to conduct clinical trials on the effectiveness of medical marijuana in the treatment of conditions common among military veterans.

While the new bill has the same title as a proposal the bipartisan duo filed during the last Congress, its language—which is not yet online but was obtained by Marijuana Moment—much more forcefully directs VA to begin researching medical cannabis than the earlier legislation did.

Whereas last year’s version simply said that the department “may conduct and support research relating to the efficacy and safety of forms of cannabis,” nothing in current federal law actually prevents it from doing so.

This latest version stipulates that the VA, which has been reluctant to engage in marijuana studies, “shall” begin conducting clinical trials on cannabis.

“The VA needs to listen to the growing number of veterans who have already found success in medicinal cannabis in easing their pain and other symptoms,” Tester, the ranking member on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in a press release. “Our bill will make sure the VA takes proactive steps to explore medicinal cannabis as a safe and effective alternative to opioids for veterans suffering from injuries or illness received in the line of duty.”

The proposed double-blind randomized controlled clinical trials are meant to cover the potential therapeutic applications of marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

In particular, the department would have to study areas such as medical marijuana’s effect on opioid, benzodiazepine and alcohol consumption, as well as inflammation, sleep quality, spasticity, agitation, quality of life, mood, anxiety, social functioning, suicidal ideation and frequency of nightmares or night terrors.

Marijuana reform advocates praised the new legislation’s more forceful language as compared to the prior bill.

“The more assertive language is great improvement to this commonsense research bill that could ultimately help veterans with debilitating conditions,” Michael Liszewski, principal of The Enact Group, a lobbying and consulting firm that focuses on cannabis issues, told Marijuana Moment.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs already has the ability to conduct this research and the previous language would have let the Department continue to drag its heels,” he said. “It’s sort of like the difference between a parent telling their child ‘maybe you should clean up your room’ versus ‘you will clean up your room, now.'”

Sullivan said that he’s heard from many veteran constituents who are interested in finding an alternative to prescription painkillers for their pain.

“Many of our nation’s veterans already use medicinal cannabis, and they deserve to have full knowledge of the potential benefits and side effects of this alternative therapy,” he said in a press release.

During the last Congress, the Senate version of the legislation garnered six cosponsors, while 55 representatives ultimately signed onto the House version. The bill became the first standalone piece of marijuana legislation to clear a congressional panel when the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved it in May.

Nonetheless, VA leadership remained reluctant about engaging in marijuana research.

“VA is committed to researching and developing effective ways to help Veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain conditions,” VA Secretary David Shulkin wrote in a letter to lawmakers last year. “However, federal law restricts VA’s ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana, or to refer veterans to such projects.”

That isn’t true.

Meanwhile, top officials in the Trump administration have talked about pressuring the VA to conduct studies on medical marijuana for veterans, emails revealed, but they expressed concerns about how the Justice Department would react.

Read the full text of the new Senate veterans medical cannabis bill below:

Senate Veterans Medical Mar… by on Scribd

GOP Congressman Talks To Trump About Marijuana And Slams ‘Stupid’ Anti-Cannabis Republican Colleagues

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New York And Connecticut Governors Talk Marijuana Legalization On Fishing Trip

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The governors of New York and Connecticut went fishing and talked about marijuana legalization on Tuesday.

The conversation comes after lawmakers in both states were unable to pass legalization legislation before their respective sessions’ ends this year, despite having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D).

“We talked about policy issues like the marijuana issue, which is obviously also relevant to contiguous states,” Cuomo said at a press conference following the fishing trip. “What Connecticut does on marijuana is relevant to New York, what New York does is relevant to Connecticut so we talked about that and a lot of issues. So we had fun.”

Watch Cuomo’s marijuana comments at about 5:00 into the video below:

Cuomo had described legalization as a top legislative priority for 2019 and included it in his state budget proposal. But after months of negotiations with lawmakers, the plan fell through, due in part to disagreements about how to allocate tax revenue and whether to allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.

The governor did sign legislation in July that expands the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy and provides a pathway for expungements of past marijuana convictions.

Over in Connecticut, Lamont campaigned on legalization during his election bid last year and described it as one of his administration’s “priorities” after he took office. But as with neighboring New York, the legislature failed to advance a legalization bill beside multiple successful committee votes and hearings throughout the year.

The specifics of what the governors talked about during their fishing expedition on Lake Ontario aren’t clear, but both are presumably gearing up for another round of legislative efforts marijuana over the coming year and could take lessons from each other as reform talks continue.

Another East Coast state, New Jersey, has also struggled to move legalization legislation forward, with lawmakers saying that the issue should be taken up by voters in 2020 rather than pushed through the legislature, though there has been discussion lately about another try at moving a bill before year’s end. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a decriminalization and expungements bill in May, however.

Federal Data Shows Youth Marijuana Use Isn’t Increasing Under Legalization

Photo courtesy of CBS 6.

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GOP Congressman Will Meet Attorney General To Discuss Expanding Marijuana Research

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Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said on Monday that he will soon be speaking with the U.S. attorney general about expanding marijuana research.

The congressman, a close ally of President Trump, is a vocal proponent of medical cannabis and has argued that the federal drug scheduling system is hampering research into the plant’s therapeutic potential.

“I will be meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr in the coming weeks to discuss the Department of Justice’s approach to unlocking more research grants so that we can have American innovation applied to our health care in a way that can get people off of some of these devastating opioids and painkillers, and on to a more natural product,” he said following a radio town hall event.

Even under the framework of prohibition, the Justice Department is able to promote research by, for example, approving additional marijuana manufacturers—something the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said it would do three years ago.

Barr has voiced support for expanding the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers.

“I think we’re going to move forward on it,” the attorney general said in April. “I think it’s very important to get those additional suppliers.”

Earlier this year, Gaetz joined congressional colleagues in leading a letter addressed to Barr and the head of DEA expressing frustration that the Justice Department has declined to take action despite its pledges. The lawmakers implored DEA to “do whatever you can to speed up and improve the research application process.

Gaetz also introduced legislation that would force DEA to approve additional facilities to produce research-grade cannabis. A version filed last year cleared the Judiciary Committee in a voice vote, and he reintroduced the bill in January but it has not yet been acted upon.

Listen to Gaetz’s new cannabis comments, about 1:20 into the audio below:

DEA is facing two lawsuits regarding its approach to marijuana, including one that concerns the lack of diversity of research-grade cannabis since only one manufacture is currently authorized. The agency was ordered to respond to the suit by August 28.

Separately, a group of patients and advocates sued DEA over marijuana’s Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act, with a federal court directing the agency to “promptly” consider reclassifying cannabis.

Gaetz also spoke about the need to more broadly reform cannabis laws during the Monday remarks.

“The federal government listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug impairs financial transactions, it impairs research and it stops us from being able to unlock cures for some of America’s most vulnerable people,” the congressman said, adding that he’s a cosponsor of legislation that would deschedule marijuana that was introduced by Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

Gaetz, who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he is requesting that the panel hold a hearing on cannabis legislation. That’d mark the second such meeting after a Judiciary subcommittee convened last month to discuss paths to ending federal prohibition.

The congressman’s staff wasn’t able to provide Marijuana Moment with additional details regarding the meeting with Barr.

Congressman Says Marijuana Could Be Legal Sooner If Trump Stops Tweeting

Photo courtesy of Meredith Geddings.

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Elizabeth Warren’s Criminal Justice Plan Involves Legalizing Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites

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Legalizing marijuana, granting clemency to people convicted of drug offenses and investing in harm reduction programs such as safe injection sites are part of a criminal justice reform plan that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released on Tuesday.

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate stressed that the war on drugs has been carried out in a racially discriminatory manner, writing that it’s unfair that “a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It’s long past time for us to reform our system.”

“This failure [of the drug war] has been particularly harmful for communities of color, and we need a new approach,” she said. “It starts with legalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions, and then eliminating the remaining disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.”

What’s more, the drug war “has criminalized addiction, ripped apart families—and largely failed to curb drug use” when a more effective system would treat addiction as a public health issue.

That includes diverting people who’ve been convicted of non-violent drug offenses to treatment programs and providing evidence-based resources for people suffering from addiction. For example, Warren’s plan calls for safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who can help prevent fatal overdoses and get people into treatment. She also said needle exchange programs and expanding access to buprenorphine would reduce the opioid crisis.

“Instead of locking up people for nonviolent marijuana crimes, I’ve proposed putting pharmaceutical executives on the hook to report suspicious orders for controlled substances that damage the lives of millions.”

She also called for the abolition of certain mandatory minimum sentences and said that “people who struggle with addiction should not be incarcerated because of their disease.”

“Mass incarceration has not reduced addiction rates or overdose deaths, because substance abuse disorder is a public health problem — and it’s long past time to treat it that way,” the plan says. “We know that diversion programs are both more humane and a better investment than incarceration — for every dollar we invest in treatment programs, we can save $12 in future crime and health care costs.”

“And rather than incarcerating individuals with substance abuse disorders, we should expand options that divert them into programs that provide real treatment.”

Like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Warren’s criminal justice reform proposal also mentions executive actions she could unilaterally take.

Specifically, she wrote that the Justice Department should not hold authority to make clemency recommendations and it should instead be left up to an independent clemency board so that those eligible for a pardons and commutations are more quickly identified.

“I’ll direct the board to identify broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, including those who would have benefited from retroactivity under the First Step Act, individuals who are jailed under outdated or discriminatory drug laws, or those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished,” she said.

The plan’s unveiling comes two days after Sanders released his criminal justice reform proposal, which also called for marijuana legalization and the implementation of harm reduction policies such as safe consumption facilities.

Buttigieg’s plan stands out from his fellow Democratic candidates in at least one regard: the mayor said drug possession should broadly be decriminalized.

Warren also released a separate plan for Indian tribes last week that involves protecting tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention.

Bernie Sanders Calls For Legalization Of Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites

Photo courtesy of Edward Kimmel.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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