A key House committee is allowing marijuana and psychedelics amendments to receive floor votes. The measures, which are being proposed to be attached to a large-scale spending bill, focus on allowing U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to recommend medical cannabis to military veterans and promoting research into substances like psilocybin and MDMA.
Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee on Tuesday blocked additional amendments that would end the practice of drug testing job applicants for marijuana at certain federal agencies and separately address VA medical marijuana issues from advancing as part of Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations legislation that covers Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies (MilCon/VA).
Earlier this month, the committee blocked more than a dozen other drug policy reform amendments that were proposed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
For the current spending bill, two sets of bipartisan lawmakers had separately filed identical amendments to provide protections for veterans who use medical marijuana in legal states, as well as doctors at the VA who issue recommendations to allow participation in such programs.
But one of the measures was revised ahead of the committee meeting to specifically prohibit the use of VA funds to enforce provisions of an existing directive that bars doctors from making the medical cannabis recommendations. That amendment, which is now advancing to a floor vote, was introduced by the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus: Reps. Brian Mast (R-FL), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dave Joyce (R-FL) and Barbara Lee (D-CA). They were later joined by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) as additional cosponsors.
At Tuesday’s Rules Committee hearing, Mast urged members to allow the reform to get a floor vote, describing his own experience as a military veteran who was administered a slew of addictive prescription drugs while he was incapacitated from an injury. He suggested that veterans should have the ability to use cannabis as an “alternative form of medication” that doesn’t come with “the same detriment to their families” as potent legal narcotics.
“I wouldn’t pretend to say which veterans it’s good for, which veterans it’s bad for—for their health, for their psyche, for anything,” Mast said. “I can absolutely point to individual cases of friends that have, as I said, flourished” with medical marijuana.
Veterans are “in a situation within our VA hospitals where their doctors are not able to really have honest discussions with them about the medication of cannabis use—whether that’s a good choice for them, a bad choice for them, whether it’s paperwork that they should be filling out and helping them gain access or not gain access to—because of the laws within their states programs,” he said. “I think that that’s something that’s should change.”
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) asked for clarification on the amendment and concluded that it’s “amazing that that’s not allowed” for VA physicians to help their patients qualify for state medical cannabis programs.
“Very few people know that I think,” he said. “Thank you for bringing it up.”
The other cannabis amendment that was proposed, and is not being allowed a floor vote, would have more broadly prohibited VA from using funding to interfere in veterans’ participation in state medical cannabis programs, doctors filling out recommendations or to deny benefits to veterans who use medical marijuana. It was sponsored by Reps. Greg Steube (R-FL), Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Dina Titus (D-NV).
I’ve been working on legislation for years in Congress to ensure veterans receive the care they deserve. For some veterans, that care can include medicinal cannabis use.
I introduced an amendment to the 2024 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, & Related Agencies…
— Congressman Greg Steube (@RepGregSteube) July 25, 2023
“I’ve been working on legislation for years in Congress to ensure veterans receive the care they deserve. For some veterans, that care can include medicinal cannabis use,” Steube said in a press release ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. “The VA should not preclude a veteran from benefits if they use legal products in their state. This is a bipartisan issue, and I’m hopeful my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will support my amendment.”
Mace added that “it is time we acknowledge the potential benefits of this alternative therapy and empower our veterans to make informed decisions about their healthcare.”
“Let us honor their sacrifice by embracing compassion, innovation, and the pursuit of a better quality of life for those who have served our nation,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Rules Committee also made in order for a floor vote an amendment from Reps. Lou Correa (D-CA) and Jack Bergman (R-MI) that would encourage research into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics.
The lawmakers, who are also the founding co-chairs of a congressional psychedelics caucus that promotes research into entheogenic substances, promoted the measure on Monday ahead of the committee meeting.
The text of the Bergman-Correa legislation does not specifically mention psychedelics and simply simultaneously increases and decreases funding in an unrelated part of the bill, a common tactic in appropriations legislation by members who want to send a message to federal agencies about key priorities without actually altering legislative text.
The summary of the proposal posted by the Rules Committee says it “increases and decreases the Medical and Prosthetic Research account at the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure the VA conducts large-scale studies into the efficacy of drugs that have FDA-designated Breakthrough Therapy status to treat post-traumatic stress disorder through VA-administered drug assisted therapy trials.”
The psychedelics measure and the veterans medical cannabis amendment that are advancing are expected to be brought up on the House floor as soon as Wednesday.
Another amendment, which the panel blocked from advancing, came from Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA). It would have ended the practice of drug testing job applicants for marijuana at certain federal agencies covered by the bill. He filed an identical amendment to the spending legislation for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies, which the Rules Committee is scheduled to take up on Wednesday.
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Earlier this month, Garcia had also filed an amendment to the NDAA that would have prevented security clearance denials for federal workers over prior cannabis use. It was among the 15 drug policy amendments that the Rules Committee denied.
Meanwhile, Democratic senators are seeking to pass a series of marijuana reform amendments through its version of the NDAA.
One of the proposals, led by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), would allow veterans to use medical cannabis in states and territories where its legal, mirroring a standalone bill that the senator introduced in April.
It would additionally protect doctors who discuss and fill out paperwork to recommend medical marijuana for veterans. And it would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to support clinical trials investigating the therapeutic effects of cannabis in the treatment of conditions such as pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that commonly afflict veterans.
It’s currently unclear if Senate Democrats and Republicans will reach an agreement on inserting any of the amendments in the final bill—or if the GOP-controlled House would be willing to go along with them if they are ultimately attached on the Senate side.
Separately, the Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved an amendment to allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations and released a report for the relevant spending bill that calls on the department to facilitate medical marijuana access for veterans and explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
House and Senate appropriators have also approved large-scale annual spending bills that once again include language to protect state medical cannabis programs, as well as a controversial rider to block Washington, D.C. from implementing a system of regulated marijuana sales.