House Democrats abandoned two veterans-focused marijuana provisions that the chamber previously approved as part of a large-scale defense bill.
This summer, the House passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with an amendment that would have protected veterans from being denied home loans from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) over employment in a state-legal cannabis market.
Another measure attached to the bill would have allowed military branches to grant reenlistment waivers to service members who have committed a single low-level marijuana offense.
The Senate didn’t include similar proposals in their version of the legislation, however, and when it came time for negotiations, leaders from the two bodies agreed to scrap them.
It’s not the case that Democrats acquiesced on all amendments that were unique to the House bill, either. In fact, there appeared to be fairly equal compromise between the chambers, as the conference report shows the House receded on about 630 provisions and the Senate receded on about 600.
In other words, it seems the cannabis measures simply weren’t viewed as legislative priorities, at least among House conference negotiators.
But to the sponsors, these provisions weren’t disposable and represented urgent needs for veterans and service members.
Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), who championed the home loan amendment, circulated a sign-on letter addressed to VA in May that raised the issue and noted reports that a veteran in her district had been denied the benefit because he worked in the marijuana industry.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), sponsor of the reenlistment waiver measure, stressed in a committee hearing in June that the country needs to “fundamentally rethink the military’s enlistment policies regarding marijuana,” especially given “our nation’s recruitment crisis.”
“Our nation’s views on marijuana use are changing, and the services have changed their recruitment process accordingly,” he said. “The services can, where appropriate, grant waivers to former users of marijuana who want to serve their country in uniform.”
At the same time that the reform provisions were omitted, conference negotiators agreed to provide almost $1 billion “for drug interdiction and counter-drug activities.” The legislation also calls for an assessment “of the impact of any planned or proposed border wall construction would have on the volume of illegal narcotics entering the United States,” according to a summary of the legislation. Additionally, it includes the Fentanyl Sanctions Act, “which implements a number of economic and financial sanctions to cripple the operations of foreign traffickers of opioids.”
Though the exact reasoning behind the House decision to acquiesce to the Senate on the veterans-focused cannabis amendments isn’t clear, the action raises doubts about the prospects of House Democratic leaders pushing marijuana proposals in separate bicameral negotiations on appropriations legislation that could be released soon.
For example, the House approved a spending bill in June that included a rider that would extend existing protections against federal intervention in state medical cannabis programs to cover all state and tribal marijuana systems. The Senate version, approved in October, did not contain the expanded language but did maintain protections for medical cannabis states.
The House also advanced appropriations legislation that includes a provision that would shield banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses, and it declined to extend a current policy that prohibits Washington, D.C. from using its local tax dollars to implement a cannabis market. The Senate bill was silent on financial services for the industry and did include language continuing to block legal sales in the nation’s capital.
Whether House Democrats have the political will to fight for cannabis reform language in the appropriations negotiations is yet to be seen. Current temporary spending legislation is set to expire on December 20, and lawmakers have set the goal of finalizing full Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations prior to that date.
During House consideration of VA spending legislation in June, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) withdrew a measure that would have allowed the department’s doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to military veterans, citing opposition from the administration.
That followed the House Veterans Affairs’ Committee scheduling and then canceling votes on standalone bills aimed at increasing veterans’ access to medical marijuana and expanding research on the issue.
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.