House lawmakers have introduced a series of drug policy-related amendments to defense legislation, including proposals to facilitate research on the benefits of psychedelics for active duty military personnel and to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses.
Other proposed amendments, which the House Rules Committee will take up next week, would codify that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can’t deny home loan benefits to veterans just because they work in the cannabis industry and require the agency to conduct a clinical trial into the therapeutic benefits of marijuana for veterans with chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
If made in order by the panel, the measures would then go to the floor for consideration by the full House. Here’s an overview of what the lawmakers are hoping to get into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA):
Psychedelics for active duty military
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), a veteran himself who recently moderated a conversation with a top psychedelics reform advocate, filed a measure that would allow the secretary of defense to approve grants for research into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics such as MDMA, psilocybin, ibogaine and 5–MeO–DMT for active duty military members with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The grants could be awarded to federal or state agencies, academic institutions or non-profit organizations. Researchers would need to “conduct one or more phase two clinical trials for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder” involving either individual or group therapy. The grant money could also be used to support training practitioners to treat eligible military members with psychedelics.
Until now, Crenshaw has consistently voted against marijuana and drug policy reform measures in Congress, including two prior amendments that were aimed at removing barriers to research on the benefits of psychedelics. His home state of Texas recently enacted a law to require officials to study the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and a bipartisan list of cosponsors are seeking to attach language to NDAA that would prevent financial regulators from penalizing banks or credit unions that work with state-legal marijuana businesses. The congressman is the sponsor of the standalone Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which has passed the House in various forms four times so far and is identical to the new amendment.
While the legislation is not directly connected to defense-related issues, it’s likely Perlmutter sees the must-pass NDAA as a potential vehicle for the reform that could make its way through the Senate, whereas all prior House-passed cannabis banking legislation has stalled to date.
VA cannabis research
Another longtime cannabis reform advocate, Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA), has an amendment on marijuana research. It would direct the head of VA to carry out a double-blind, randomized controlled clinical trial into the “effects of medical grade cannabis on the health outcomes of covered veterans diagnosed with chronic pain and covered veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.”
With respect to chronic pain, the trial would have to investigate the impact of cannabis use on neuropathic pain and the use and dosage of opioids, benzodiazepines and alcohol, as well as overall wellbeing factors like sleep and anxiety. For PTSD studies, researchers would need to examine the effects of marijuana on overall symptoms and benzodiazepines use.
Correa introduced standalone legislation earlier this year that is largely similar to the amendment, with some minor differences on the type of studies that would need to be carried out.
A pair of Republican lawmakers separately introduced a congressional bill in April that’s meant to promote research into the medical potential of marijuana for veterans.
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VA home loans for veterans in the cannabis industry
Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) is again pushing to stop VA from being able to deny home loans to veterans who work in the state-legal marijuana industry.
“In the case of a person with documented income that is derived, in whole or in part, from working in the marijuana industry in compliance with the law of the State in which the work takes place, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs may not use the fact that such documented income is derived, in whole or in part, from working in the marijuana industry as a factor in determining whether to guarantee, issue, or make a housing loan under chapter 37 of title 38, United States Code,” the text of the amendment says.
In June, the Appropriations Committee approved a bill that includes a report acknowledging that VA has clarified that veterans are eligible for home loan benefits even if they work in a state-legal marijuana industry. However, it expressed disappointment that the agency hasn’t taken further action to communicate this policy to lenders and borrowers.
That spending bill report also directed VA to improve that communication and report back to Congress on its progress within 180 days of the enactment of the legislation.
A prior Clark amendment to address the problem was approved by the full House as part of a previous defense policy bill—though leaders in the chamber agreed to scrap it after the Senate didn’t include it in its version of the legislation.
Withhold funds for fumigation of drug crops in Colombia
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) reintroduced an amendment to prohibit the use of funds for aerial fumigation on drug crops in Colombia, a practice widely criticized by reform and human rights advocates. The House receded on the proposal last year.
The Rules Committee is expected to decide next week which of the above amendments will be allowed to advance for floor votes.
Racially discriminatory drug testing in the military
As approved in the House Armed Services Committee earlier this month, NDAA already 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 this year.
Meanwhile, over in the Senate, the Appropriations Committee passed a measure last month that’s meant to promote military veterans’ access to medical marijuana by allowing VA doctors to issue cannabis recommendations in legal states. It would further prohibit VA from interfering with, or denying services to, veterans who participate in a state-legal medical cannabis program.
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.
Last year, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved legislation to expand medical cannabis research for veterans, as well as a separate proposal to allow VA doctors to issue medical marijuana 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.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.