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House Approves Spending Bill with Amendments for Veteran Medical Cannabis Treatments

US military veteran

By The 420 Gardener

On July 26, 2023, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a large spending bill that included several amendments related to veteran medical cannabis treatments and psychedelic substance research. The bill, known as the 2024 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies appropriations bill or HR-4366, would allow doctors from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend medical cannabis for veterans in states where it is legal, and prevent the VA from denying service or interfering with veterans who participate in legal medical cannabis programs. The bill would also enable the VA to conduct research on the potential benefits of psychedelic substances such as psilocybin and MDMA for veterans with mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

The Need for Alternative Treatments for Veterans

According to the VA, about 20 veterans die by suicide every day in the U.S., and many more struggle with chronic pain, anxiety, insomnia, and substance abuse. While the VA offers various treatment options for these conditions, such as medication, therapy, and counseling, some veterans find them ineffective or harmful. For example, some prescription drugs can cause addiction, dependency, or adverse side effects. Some veterans also face stigma, discrimination, or barriers to access quality care within the VA system.

As a result, some veterans have turned to alternative treatments such as medical cannabis and psychedelic substances, which have shown promising results in scientific studies and anecdotal reports. Medical cannabis can help reduce pain, inflammation, nausea, seizures, and spasticity, as well as improve mood, sleep, and appetite. Psychedelic substances can help facilitate emotional processing, enhance cognitive flexibility, and promote neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. However, these substances are still illegal under federal law and are classified as Schedule I drugs by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), meaning they have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. This creates legal risks and challenges for veterans who want to use them for their health and well-being.

The Amendments to HR-4366

To address this issue, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced several amendments to HR-4366 that would protect and expand the rights of veterans to access medical cannabis and psychedelic substances. The amendments were approved by voice vote on the House floor on July 26.

One of the amendments was sponsored by Reps. Brian Mast (R-FL), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dave Joyce (R-OH), and Barbara Lee (D-CA). It would prevent the VA from interfering with a veteran’s ability to participate in a legal state medical cannabis program, deny service to such a veteran, or limit health care providers’ ability to make appropriate recommendations of this treatment option for veterans. The amendment would also require the VA to report to Congress on its progress in implementing this policy.

Another amendment was sponsored by Reps. Lou Correa (D-CA), Conor Lamb (D-PA), Peter Meijer (R-MI), Nancy Mace (R-SC), John Rutherford (R-FL), and Scott Peters (D-CA). It would direct the VA to conduct clinical trials on the safety and efficacy of psychedelic substances such as psilocybin and MDMA for veterans with PTSD, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, or traumatic brain injury. The amendment would also require the VA to report to Congress on its findings and recommendations.

Other amendments that were approved as part of HR-4366 include:

  • An amendment by Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Steve Stivers (R-OH), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Warren Davidson (R-OH), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), David Joyce (R-OH), Denny Heck (D-WA) that would protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. This amendment contains the language of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which has passed the House several times but has stalled in the Senate.
  • An amendment by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Lou Correa (D-CA) that would remove a longstanding rider that has prevented federal agencies from using funds to review applications for research into Schedule I drugs such as marijuana and psychedelics.
  • An amendment by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) that would require the Secretary of Defense to report on the racial disparities in military justice system related to marijuana offenses.
  • An amendment by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Dave Joyce (R-OH) that would prohibit funds from being used to prevent any state or Indian tribe from implementing its own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana.
  • An amendment by Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) that would prohibit funds from being used to interfere with the implementation of marijuana laws in the District of Columbia.
  • An amendment by Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Rick Larsen (D-WA) that would prohibit funds from being used to deny veterans benefits to those who use marijuana in accordance with state law.

The Next Steps for HR-4366

The passage of these amendments in the House is a significant step forward for veteran medical cannabis and psychedelic substance access, as well as for broader drug policy reform. However, the bill still faces several hurdles before it can become law. The Senate has not yet taken up its version of the spending bill, and it is unclear whether it will include similar amendments or accept the ones passed by the House. The bill will also have to go through a conference committee to reconcile any differences between the House and Senate versions, and then be signed by the President.

Therefore, advocates and stakeholders are urging the Senate to follow the House’s lead and support these amendments, as well as calling on the President to sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk. They argue that these amendments are not only consistent with public opinion and scientific evidence, but also with the moral obligation to provide veterans with the best possible care and respect for their service and sacrifice.

Sources:

1House Approves Spending Bill with Amendments for Veteran Medical Cannabis Treatments | High Times 2Marijuana Moment: House Approves More Marijuana Amendments To Defense Bill, Including Banking And Veterans Medical Access – In the News – Congresswoman Katherine Clark 3House Approves Veterans Medical Marijuana Access And Psychedelics Research Amendments As Part Of Spending Bill | Marijuana Moment 4House Approves More Marijuana Amendments To Defense Bill, Including Banking And Veterans Medical Access | Marijuana Moment 5Bipartisan Lawmakers File Amendments To Allow VA Medical Marijuana Recommendations For Military Veterans | Marijuana Moment