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Lawmakers Press VA About Denying Veterans Home Loans Over Marijuana Industry Work

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The denial of home loans by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to military veterans because of work in the state-legal marijuana industry is prompting congressional action.

On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee included language in a report attached to a 2020 VA funding bill demanding clarification on the issue:

“Home Loan Income Verification.—The Committee is aware of the Department’s denial of home loan guarantees to Veterans solely on the basis of the Veteran’s documented income being derived from state-legalized cannabis activities. The Committee is concerned that the Department has never publicly stated its position on this matter, hindering Veterans’ ability to fully understand and consider how employment decisions could affect future eligibility for earned benefits. The Committee therefore directs VA to publicly clarify its position on this matter no later than 180 days after the enactment of this Act.”

Separately, Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Julia Brownley (D-CA), the chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, are also currently circulating a congressional sign-on letter to VA about the issue.

“Recently, a veteran reported that his VA home loan guarantee application was denied based on his employment in a state-legal cannabis industry. The VA’s response indicated that the Department considered the Veteran’s source of income not to be ‘stable and reliable’ enough for the purpose of mortgage applications,” the lawmakers wrote in a cover message seeking signatures from other members of Congress for the VA letter.

“Because the VA believes that this income can be forfeited or seized under federal law, they won’t deem it suitable for a VA loan,” Clark and Brownley told their colleagues in the note, which was obtained by Marijuana Moment. “The VA also explained that if VA employees were to accept this income for the purpose of a loan application, they could technically be prosecuted by DOJ for money laundering.”

The draft letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, like the appropriations bill report language, presses VA to clarify its position on the issue.

“A vast majority of U.S. states have now legalized medicinal and/or recreational cannabis in some form, giving rise to a state-legal industry that generates up to $11 billion per year in sales, creates over $1 billion in state-collected excise tax revenues, and supports the livelihood of over 211,000 Americans,” the letter to the secretary says. “A substantial number of veterans earn their livelihoods in this industry, and in coming years, that number is likely to further rise.”

“The VA must acknowledge this reality and ensure veterans who work in this sector are able to clearly understand and can equitably access the benefits they’ve earned.”

“The ambiguity under which the cannabis industry operates is unique, and we fully understand the VA’s resulting aversion to legal and financial risk,” the draft letter to Wilkie states. “Denying veterans the benefits they’ve earned, however, is contrary to the intent  Congress separately demonstrated in its creation of VA benefit programs.”

While VA has provided guidance on certain related matters such as a clarification that veterans will not lose their VA benefits just for using cannabis and specifying that the department’s physicians can discuss marijuana usage with patients but not issue formal recommendation for medical cannabis, the department hasn’t put anything in writing concerning housing loan qualifications for veterans who work in the marijuana market, at least not publicly.

“Yet, the VA has not issued any policies or guidance on this topic, leaving veterans with no way to clearly and readily understand whether their choice of legal employment in this industry could result in the denial of benefits they’ve earned,” the letter says.

“We ask that you reply in the next 30 days detailing the Department’s position on loan guarantees, and that to the extent practicable, you also include information about whether a veteran’s eligibility for any other specific VA benefit is jeopardized solely on the basis of their employment in a legal cannabis industry in a given state. We also request that your reply include an assurance that you will begin the process of issuing guidance to publicly clarify the VA’s position on this matter.”

Separately, the House Appropriations Committee report attached to the VA funding bill also includes a section demanding VA explain its efforts to conduct research on marijuana’s therapeutic benefits for veterans:

“Cannabis Research.—The Committee recognizes that continued focus on the discovery of treatment alternatives for Veterans diagnosed with various conditions, such as chronic pain and PTSD, is essential to reducing the number of Veteran suicides. For this reason, the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, 2019 (P.L. 115– 244) urged VA to utilize funds to prioritize investments in research on the efficacy and safety of cannabis usage among the Veteran population for medicinal purposes and submit a report to the Committee no later than 180 days after enactment of that Act. The report has yet to be submitted to the Committee, therefore the Committee directs VA to provide a status update of this outstanding report no later than 15 days after the report is filed.”

Similar language was included in a report from the same committee last year, but VA apparently has not complied with the prior request to issue a report to Congress on the matter.

Veterans and cannabis issues have been front and center in the 116th Congress, with three pieces of related legislation having been discussed at a House veterans subcommittee hearing in April. Two of those bills were set to get a full committee vote on Wednesday, but they were pulled from the agenda after the chairman decided to instead hold a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing focused specifically on the marijuana proposals.

Trump Administration Opposes Bills On Medical Marijuana For Military Veterans

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Santa Cruz Will Consider Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week

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Santa Cruz, California could be the latest in a wave of cities to decriminalize psychedelics, with a City Council hearing on the proposal scheduled for Tuesday.

The city vice mayor, Justin Cummings, recently introduced the resolution, which would make possession, use and cultivation of entheogenic substances such as psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca the city’s lowest law enforcement priority.

“Plants and fungi with psychedelic properties have been used for thousands of years by indigenous communities for spiritual and medical practices and many are considered illegal in our country,” Cummings told Marijuana Moment in an email. “As we begin to better understand the health benefits of these plants and fungi, we need to not treat the people who use and research these plants and fungi as criminals, and lower barriers for research, clinical treatment, and personal.”

“Santa Cruz has a number of organizations that conduct research on use of psychedelics to improve mental health and we as a community want to support these efforts,” he added.

The full City Council will hear a presentation from the advocacy group Decriminalize Santa Cruz and discuss the resolution on Tuesday. After that point, the measure will be referred to the Public Safety Commission for further consideration.

Text of the resolution emphasizes the medical potential of psychedelics and the ritualistic consumption of the substances throughout history.

If approved, that would mean the City Council “supports the possession, use, and/or cultivation of entheogenic psychoactive plants and fungi for personal adult use and clinical research and psychoactive practices, and declares that the investigation and arrest of individuals involved with the adult possession, use, or cultivation of entheogenic psychoactive plants and fungi listed on the federal schedule one list for personal use be among the lowest priorities for the city of Santa Cruz.”

The measure recommends that the use of psychedelics for medical or spiritual purposes “be done in consultation with, and under the supervision of trained/medical professionals.”

Additionally, it calls on the city manager to order Santa Cruz’s state and federal lobbyists to “work in support of decriminalizing all entheogenic psychoactive plants, and plant and fungi-based compounds listed in the Federal Controlled Substances Act.”

Psychedelics reform is moving ahead in jurisdictions throughout the U.S., with Denver becoming the first city to decriminalize so-called magic mushrooms in May. Oakland’s City Council followed suit, unanimously approving a resolution that expanding the decriminalization to a wide range of entheogenic substances.

Advocates are also working to advance decriminalization in Portland, Chicago, Berkeley and Dallas.

Meanwhile, California activists are pushing two separate statewide psychedelics initiatives: one that would decriminalize psilocybin across the board and another more recently filed measure that calls for broad legalization and commercial sales. Oregon activists are collecting signatures for a 2020 proposal that would legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.

On the federal level, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voiced support for decriminalizing psychedelics and promoting research into the substances in a video statement delivered at a Drug Policy Alliance conference last week.

Read text of the Santa Cruz psychedelic resolution below: 

Santa Cruz Decriminalize Dr… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Voices Support For Decriminalizing Psychedelics

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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Sanders, Warren And Buttigieg Include Medical Marijuana In Veterans Day Plans

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To commemorate Veterans Day, a number of presidential candidates are releasing plans focused on helping those who served the country in the military—and at least three major contenders are including marijuana-specific planks in their proposals.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), for example, wants to ensure that doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) “have the option of appropriately prescribing medical marijuana to their patients.”

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

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Barbara Lee Honors Veterans Day With Call To Action On Marijuana Reform

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Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) marked Veterans Day by promoting a bill she introduced that would effectively legalize medical marijuana for military veterans.

In a press release and email blast for the national advocacy group NORML, the congresswoman discussed the need to expand access to cannabis for those who’ve served, stating that studies demonstrate the plant can treat symptoms of conditions that commonly afflict veterans such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lee said that as the daughter of a veteran, the issue is particularly important for her.

“Congress must do more to ensure every veteran has a roof over their head, to ensure our veterans come home to a job that pays them a living wage, and to ensure our veterans have access to the health care services they deserve,” she said in the press release. “That includes improving veterans’ access to medical marijuana.”

“That’s why I introduced H.R. 1151, the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, to empower veterans and their doctors to make informed decisions about the use of medical marijuana without political interference,” she said. “The current federal prohibition on cannabis is harmful and counterproductive. Politicians should never stand between our veterans and their health care.”

The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act was introduced in February, and the House version currently has three cosponsors, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). The Senate companion version was filed by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and has two cosponsors, Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who signed on last week.

In her email for NORML on Monday, Lee said that cannabis prohibition has disproportionately impacted communities of color, but the policy also “falls hard upon is our nation’s veterans.”

The congresswoman noted that medical cannabis is widely used by veterans, yet doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) aren’t allowed to fill out recommendations, even in states where it’s legal. That would change under her legislation, she said.

“This year, we can and must succeed in passing this essential legislation and protecting the rights of veterans to access medical treatment and serving those who served us,” she wrote, linking to a page where people can send a letter in support of her bill to their own representatives.

“Prohibiting VA doctors from recommending cannabis to qualifying patients, while continuing to rely on pharmaceuticals drugs like opioids as a treatment, is both a dangerous and illogical policy,” she said. “We know medical marijuana can be an effective and safe treatment for veterans and it is time to stop making them seek private, out-of-network physicians to access it.”

“I sponsored the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act because I know it will create an immediate positive impact on the lives of our veterans. Once enacted, veterans will be able to access medical marijuana treatment without the added challenge of accessing a private, non-VA physician. Together, we can gather enough support to pass this legislation, but it will only happen if enough Americans stand up and demand it. Please tell your member of Congress to support the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.”

VA under the Trump administration has resisted marijuana reform legislation, with officials from the department testifying in a committee hearing in April that it opposed several proposals, including one that would require VA to conduct research into the medical benefits of cannabis for veterans.

Former VA Secretary David Shulkin, whose department also declined to take action on veterans cannabis issues, recently said that he’s in favor of increasing research into the plant’s therapeutic potential and blamed staff for misinforming him about what VA was capable of doing to that end while he was in office.

Lee, who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, also discussed cannabis reform in a video statement that was broadcast at a Drug Policy Alliance conference in St. Louis on Saturday. She didn’t address veterans issues specifically but rather spoke about broader reform efforts to federally legalize marijuana.

“We all know that the federal prohibition on marijuana has led to the overcriminalization and mass incarceration, especially in black and brown communities,” she told activists in the taped message. “That is why we need to ensure that as the cannabis movement marches forward, it does so hand-in-hand with efforts to address these racial inequities head on.”

“I think we’re at a pivotal moment for the cannabis movement. There is so much excitement for the progress we’ve made and for where we are pushing to go,” the congresswoman said. “If we do this right—by ensuring that we address the legacy of the failed war on drugs and center our work in restorative justice—there is no stopping us.

“I wish you success for your conference and the work ahead,” she said. “Stay woke.”

Bernie Sanders Wants To Legalize Medical Marijuana For Military Veterans

Photo courtesy of Rep. Barbara Lee.

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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