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 four 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.”
Under current VA policy, government healthcare providers are not able to complete medical cannabis recommendation forms for their patients, even when they are in states that have voted to make the drug legally available.
The Sanders plan, released on Monday, would also make it so that “any servicemember discharged from the military for marijuana use or possession can apply for a discharge upgrade, so they can become eligible for the full complement of services and benefits provided by the VA.”
Last week, Sanders cosponsored a pending Senate bill that would provide a safe harbor federally legalizing the use and possession of marijuana for military veterans in states that allow it. That legislation would also let VA physicians issue medical cannabis recommendations to their patients.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has been slower to embrace marijuana law reform than most other candidates, said in his veterans platform that his administration will “support the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes and reschedule cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts.”
“This will include allowing the VA to research the use of medical cannabis to treat veteran-specific health needs,” the plan says.
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D), a veteran himself, rolled out a plan on Monday pledging to “support legislation that will empower VA physicians to issue medical cannabis recommendations to augment a veterans’ broader treatment plan, in accordance with the laws of states where it is legal.”
His proposal would also press VA to “conduct studies on the use of marijuana to treat pain.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) put out a veterans plan last week that notes her support for “legislation to study the use of medical cannabis to treat veterans as an alternative to opioids, because we need to pursue all evidence-based opportunities for treatment and response.”
In addition to the veterans-specific cannabis pledges, Sanders, Buttigieg and Warren have backed broader proposals to legalize marijuana and repair the harms of past prohibition enforcement.
Sanders, for example, issued a cannabis plan last month promising to deschedule marijuana within the first 100 days of his administration via executive action. It would also seek to ensure that the marijuana industry is fair and equitable by banning tobacco companies from participating, enacting market and franchise caps and providing resources “for people to start cooperatives and collective nonprofits as marijuana businesses that will create jobs and economic growth in local communities.”
A top Sanders campaign advisor said that the senator is open to covering medical cannabis through his Medicare for All plan.
During the dispensary visit, the mayor told a Marijuana Moment reporter that he has “met a lot of veterans who rely on cannabis for the treatment of diagnosed or undiagnosed issues, often service-connected issues like post-traumatic stress” and supports covering medical marijuana expenses through healthcare plans.
The mayor has also pledged to decriminalize possession of all drugs during his first term.
Warren is the lead sponsor of pending Senate legislation that would exempt state-legal cannabis activity from federal prohibition. Her broad criminal justice reform plan released this summer calls for “legalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions.”
A separate plan the senator released on empowering Indian tribes noted that “a number of Tribal Nations view cannabis as an important economic opportunity” and that her legislation would “safeguard the ability of Tribal Nations to make their own marijuana policies.”
Nearly every other current 2020 Democratic presidential candidate has endorsed legalizing marijuana, with the notable exception of Biden, who supports a modest move to reschedule it under federal law.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who in recent days has taken steps to potentially enter the presidential race, said earlier this year that legalizing cannabis is “perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done.”
When it comes to military veterans and medical marijuana, Rep. Barbara Lee also issued a veterans-specific cannabis reform message on Monday.
“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,” the c0-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus wrote in an email to NORML activists. “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.”
Trade Associations And Civil Rights Groups Send Mixed Messages On Marijuana Banking To Senate
A coalition of trade associations sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership on Thursday, urging a vote on legislation to protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses.
But those senators are also feeling pressure from leading civil rights groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, which sent an earlier letter insisting that they not allow cannabis banking to detract from more comprehensive reform that addresses social equity.
The organizations involved in the latest letter—including the American Bankers Association and Credit Union National Association—said that advancing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act or similar legislation is pivotal to ensuring that stakeholders receive needed clarity and are shielded from being penalized by federal regulators.
The letter, addressed to Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH), emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House passage of the bill in September and the growing movement at the state level to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.
“Our organizations support an initial legislative step that allows the legal cannabis industry into the banking system,” the groups, which also include the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, International Council of Shopping Centers and National Association of REALTORS, wrote. “Ultimately, protecting law-abiding financial institutions and ancillary businesses from their currently untenable position and addressing increasing public safety concerns.”
As more states reform their marijuana laws, however, “distribution, sale, possession, research, transaction, housing, employment, and a broader landscape of cannabis is becoming increasingly problematic” for stakeholders under federal prohibition.
“Ultimately, this creates more legal and security concerns that impact the operations and safety of businesses and consumers,” they said. “Finally, the lack of an available safe harbor for cannabis will continue to challenge the full adoption and deployment of the legal hemp and CBD products market in the U.S. due to the inextricable link between hemp and cannabis.”
“To resolve this, we urge the Committee to vote on the SAFE Banking Act or similar measures. Such measures are meant to create a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to businesses in a state permitting the use of cannabis. A safe harbor will enable law enforcement and states to effectively monitor and regulate businesses while simultaneously bringing billions into the regulated banking sector.”
12 groups including ABA just wrote @MikeCrapo @SenSherrodBrown @senatemajldr @SenSchumer urging a vote on the #SAFEBanking Act. It's time to end the legal limbo over banking cannabis in the growing number of states where it's legal. Read the letter: https://t.co/1529vIHawq
— American Bankers Association (@ABABankers) December 12, 2019
The letter, also signed by Americans for Prosperity and R Street, recognizes that creating a federal regulatory scheme for marijuana will take time but says that the SAFE Banking Act represents “a critical first step to ensure that legal cannabis marketplaces are safe, legal, and transparent.”
Crapo has said that he’s interested in holding a vote on resolving the cannabis banking issue in his panel before the year’s end, but so far nothing has been scheduled. The chairman told Marijuana Moment in earlier interviews that there are several changes to the House-passed bill that he’d like to see but that he’s worried impeachment proceedings against the president will interfere with plans to hold a vote.
All that said, pressure from civil rights advocacy groups could complicate congressional efforts to get the banking bill approved. In October, several organizations including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch and Center for American Progress sent a letter to Senate leadership, as well as Crapo and Brown, demanding that “marijuana legislation considered in the Senate include provisions that will guarantee equity in the industry.”
The letter, which doesn’t appear to have been previously reported and was obtained by Marijuana Moment, states that while the coalition agrees the SAFE Banking Act “is an incremental step toward rolling back the federal prohibition of marijuana, it fails to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States’ punitive drug laws.”
“As the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs considers similar legislation, we insist that the legislation include provisions that ensure equity in the marijuana industry by creating opportunities for individuals who have been prohibited from this growing business either by legal or financial means,” the letter, which was also signed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and National Association of Social Workers, states.
“Indeed, this Congress has shown it understands the economic impact of legalization. But while progress on the business side of legalization is promising, it is not sufficient. Federal marijuana legislation must be comprehensive and lead with equity, addressing past and current harms to communities of color and low-income communities who bore the brunt of the failed war on drugs. We demand that any marijuana reform or legalization bill considered by the Senate] include robust provisions addressing equity. More than simply adding equity provisions to bills that address industry concerns, we need comprehensive reform that deschedules marijuana and addresses the inequities and harms continually inflicted by the failed war on drugs.”
In other words, the groups are insisting on broad reform prior to a vote on a bill viewed as largely beneficial to the cannabis industry—similar to a request they made of House members prior to the legislation’s passage in the chamber.
Read the marijuana banking letters from the trade associations and civil rights groups below:
GOP Congressman Knocks His Party For Failing To Pass Marijuana Reform
A Republican congressman says that whichever party is responsible for passing federal marijuana reform will “instantly” shoot up in the polls, while lamenting the fact that the GOP failed to do so when they controlled the House.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a vocal advocate for hemp, was asked by Fox Business host Kennedy on Wednesday whether cannabis should be rescheduled under federal law.
“Absolutely,” he said. “The first party that does this—and I don’t understand why either party won’t do it—is going instantly gain 10 points in the general poll on which party versus the other.”
“We should have done it when we were in the majority,” he added. “The liberals should be asking Pelosi why she hasn’t put it on the floor yet.”
The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation last month to end federal marijuana prohibition, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for floor action.
Massie made similar points during an interview with Marijuana Moment earlier this year, stating that if Republicans had advanced states’ rights-focused marijuana legislation, “I think we might still be in the majority.”
Of course, while Massie has supported legislation to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal intervention, as well as other more modest reform measures such as protecting banks that service marijuana businesses, he’s so far declined to cosponsor any bills that seek to deschedule cannabis.
The congressman has also expressed interest in changing federal gun control laws to allow cannabis consumers to purchase firearms.
Though it’s not clear exactly how much of a boost either party would get by passing a marijuana reform bill, a Pew poll released last month does show that there’s majority support for legalization among those who lean Republican (55 percent) as well those who lean Democratic (78 percent).
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Rep. Massie.
State Department Warns Travelers About Flying With Cannabis Oil Internationally
The U.S. State Department is warning international holiday travelers that while hemp-derived CBD might be legal in the U.S., it can land you in trouble if you take it certain places abroad.
“Make sure your gift isn’t a fa la la la la la la la la fail,” the department said in a tweet on Thursday. “Bringing along gifts like drones, CBD oils, and firearms can land you in trouble in foreign countries. Research what is and isn’t allowed before you travel.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Flickr/DHS.