A key House committee on Wednesday approved a large-scale defense spending bill that includes report language voicing concern about racial disparities in military drug testing practices and ordering the Pentagon to conduct a review of the issue.
Unlike in past sessions, however, lawmakers did not file an amendment requiring the secretary of defense to issue regulations clarifying that military branches can grant reenlistment waivers to service members who have committed a single low-level marijuana offense.
It’s not clear why Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), who has consistently championed that cannabis measure, declined to introduce it in committee, but it’s possible it could be raised as an amendment later when the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) moves to the House floor. The congressman’s office did not respond several inquiries from Marijuana Moment.
In any case, the language on drug testing from Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD) was approved by the House Armed Services Committee as part of an en bloc package of amendments to NDAA concerning issues related to military personnel.
The report provision says that lawmakers are “aware of data collected by the [Department of Defense] regarding demographics of the drug testing and evaluation programs of the Armed Forces,” and a 2020 analysis of that data reveals troubling trends.
“The committee is concerned with the racial disparities found in the report regarding random drug test selection, including significant over representation in the random drug test selection of non-commissioned officers and field grade officers and a consistent and statistically relevant over representation of Black service members overall from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2019. The committee further notes a higher positive test rate amongst service members of color and a standard course of action upon a positive test to administratively separate such personnel.”
To address the issue, members directed the defense secretary to work with military branch heads on a report looking at the possibility of standardizing demographic reporting of drug testing activity, including the demographic makeup of those who are randomly screened and the results and investigations that follow.
The department would have until March 1, 2022 to produce the report. What remains to be seen is whether the Senate will approve similar language in its version of NDAA. If not, the question will be whether House negotiators will push for its inclusion in the final conference report.
In other recent congressional cannabis policy moves related to the military, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment last month that’s meant to promote military veterans’ access to medical marijuana by allowing doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to issue cannabis recommendations in legal states.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), would further prohibit VA from interfering with, or denying services to, veterans who participate in a state-legal medical cannabis program.
Multiple pieces of veterans- and marijuana-specific legislation have also been introduced this Congress.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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Reps. Conor Lamb (D-PA) and Peter Meijer (R-MI) filed a bill—titled the Fully Informed Veteran Act—in May that would simply allow VA doctors to provide basic information and resources about state-legal cannabis programs to veterans.
A pair of Republican lawmakers introduced a congressional bill in April that’s meant to promote research into the medical potential of marijuana for veterans.
That was filed one day after a bipartisan Senate bill was introduced—and on the same day that House members filed companion legislation—to require VA to conduct clinical trials into marijuana for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain in the population.
Last year, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved a prior version of that bill, as well as a separate proposal to allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to their patients in states where it’s legal.
Also in April, a bipartisan coalition of congressional lawmakers reintroduced legislation that would federally legalize medical marijuana for military veterans.
This session, the House approved a spending bill that includes report language saying federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.
It also acknowledges that VA has clarified that veterans are eligible for home loan benefits even if they work in a state-legal marijuana industry. However, it expresses disappointment that VA hasn’t taken further action to communicate this policy to lenders and borrowers and directs the department to improve its communication and report back to Congress on its progress within 180 days of the enactment of the legislation.
Separately, a Navy veteran who was deported to Jamaica over a marijuana conviction has recently been allowed to return to the country following a concerted push for relief by members of Congress.
Read the full report language on military drug testing below:
Amendment to H.R. 4350 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022
Offered by: Mr. Brown of Maryland
In the appropriate place in the report to accompany H.R. 4350, insert the following new Directive Report Language:
Demographics of Drug Testing and Evaluation Programs
The committee is aware of data collected by the Department regarding demographics of the drug testing and evaluation programs of the Armed Forces, including as set forth in the report of the Inspector General of the Air Force titled “Report of Inquiry (S8918P), Independent Racial Disparity Review,” and dated December 2020. The committee is concerned with the racial disparities found in the report regarding random drug test selection, including significant over representation in the random drug test selection of non-commissioned officers and field grade officers and a consistent and statistically relevant over representation of Black service members overall from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2019. The committee further notes a higher positive test rate amongst service members of color and a standard course of action upon a positive test to administratively separate such personnel.
Therefore, the committee directs the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretaries of the military departments, to provide a report to the House Committee on Armed Services by March 1, 2022, on the feasibility of implementing standard demographic reporting of the drug testing and evaluation programs of each armed force, to include collecting demographics on random test selection, availability for random testing, results of random testing, referrals to investigation, and any other relevant stages of the testing and evaluation program; changes to the program necessary to implement such data collection; impediments to implementing such changes; potential options for mitigating such impediments; and a schedule, including specific milestones, in which the establishment of such standard demographic reporting could be executed.