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Senators Introduce NDAA Amendments to Legalize Medical Marijuana for Military Veterans and Protect VA Home Loan Benefits

By on October 3, 2022 0

Senators tabled another pair of marijuana amendments to a sweeping defense bill. The new proposals, if passed, would legalize medical cannabis for military veterans and pressure the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ensure people who served in uniform don’t miss out on federal home loan benefits. simply because they work in the marijuana industry. .

These are the latest cannabis-related amendments that have been proposed for the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Last week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) filed measures to ensure that marijuana use alone cannot be grounds for denial of federal security clearances.

Now Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) has introduced an amendment that mirrors the language of a standalone bill, the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, which he sponsors.

The measure would allow veterans to legally possess and use cannabis under federal law, as recommended by doctors under state law. Physicians with VA would also be allowed for the first time to make such recommendations. Additionally, VA would need to investigate the therapeutic potential of marijuana for pain and reducing opioid abuse.

The text is the same as the stand-alone legislation, except that it does not contain a section on conclusions and does not request that a specific amount of funding be allocated to study components. Instead, he says Congress should provide as much funding as “needed to carry out” the research.

Separately, the senses. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) filed an amendment to the NDAA that simply expresses “Congress’s sentiment” that veterans “should not be denied access to departmental home loans of Veterans Affairs on the basis of income from state-legal cannabis activities.

Although VA clarified that nothing in the law prevents veterans from receiving home loan benefits if they work in a state-legal marijuana business, “many veterans continue to be denied the access to home loans based on income from state-legal cannabis activities,” the amendment says.

The senators said VA “should improve communication with eligible lending institutions to reduce confusion among lenders and borrowers on this matter.”

On the House side, the chamber approved an identical amendment under the NDAA this summer. As originally introduced by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), the measure would have banned home loan denials outright, but it was changed to a non-binding form before being enacted.

The House also passed a proposal from Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Brian Mast (R-FL) to the defense bill that would codify that VA physicians can discuss and issue recommendations for medical cannabis to veterans. . However, it stopped short of explicitly legalizing the possession of medical marijuana for veterans.

The Senate uses the House bill as the vehicle for the NDAA, but the house would have to vote on an amendment to replace the wording with its own text, and so these new amendments would revise that version.

It remains to be seen whether the Senate will follow the House on other drug policy reform measures that cleared the chamber in July. This includes provisions on marijuana banks, psychedelic research and more.

Meanwhile, Senate leaders are also seeking to attach separate, broader intelligence legislation to the NDAA that included a provision preventing the denial of cannabis security clearances when it was approved by a Senate committee earlier this year. year.

But last week, two GOP senators protested the inclusion of marijuana language and it was removed from the measure, prompting the sponsor to separately file broader amendments on the issue.

One of Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) latest proposals would prevent the denial of federal security clearances for people using cannabis at any time, while the other would limit protection only to people who admit prior use. to enter. national security check.

The senses. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and John Cornyn (R-TX) had raised an objection to attaching the stand-alone Intelligence Clearance Act to the NDAA if it included its previous marijuana security clearance provision. which had been approved by the Intelligence Committee over the summer.

(Cornyn separately blocked a bipartisan cannabis research bill that passed the House in a fast-track Senate vote last week by raising an objection to its consideration with unanimous consent.)

Wyden’s previous standalone amendment had already been watered down in committee before being adopted.

As introduced, the senator’s measure would have “prohibited any federal agency from denying or revoking an individual’s eligibility for access to classified information solely because of past or present consumption of cannabis”.

It was changed so that only past cannabis use is covered and the protection only applies to people who work for intelligence agencies, rather than any federal agency.

The senses. Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) separately proposed a separate NDAA amendment last week that calls for federal, state, tribal and local collaboration to address the cleanup of cultivation-damaged land illicit cannabis.

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Advocates welcome these efforts to use the NDAA as a vehicle to enact these changes, but there are many more drug policy reform components in the version passed by the House that advocates would also like to see included in the law. Final NDAA after bicameral negotiations.

For example, the House version currently includes proposals to protect banks that work with state-legal cannabis businesses. The chamber also passed the banking amendment as part of last year’s NDAA, but the Senate did not follow suit, so it was not included in the final bill.

Representative Ed Perlmutter, sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, said earlier this month that if the Senate does not advance cannabis banking reform one way or another, he was prepared to “go for the nuclear option” in the House. Rules Committee and hold separate legislation like the NDAA.

Regarding the VA’s recommendations on medical cannabis, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) pushed through an amendment that also gives VA physicians the power to dispense, but it goes further by prohibiting employers federal government to discriminate against veterans who use or have used marijuana. .

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) won two drug policy changes at the NDAA. The one that passed the House builds on a measure by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), requiring the Department of Defense (DOD) to study marijuana as an alternative to opioids in treating service members with dementia. post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury and severe pain. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal expands the scope of this research to include psilocybin and MDMA.

Ocasio-Cortez’s amendment to prevent the use of funds for aerial fumigation of drug crops in Colombia also passed. This practice has been widely criticized by reform and human rights advocates.

Another psychedelic amendment that cleared the chamber this summer was sponsored by Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX). This would allow the Secretary of Defense to approve grants for research into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics such as MDMA, psilocybin, ibogaine and 5-MeO-DMT for active duty service members with PTSD.

The House also passed a measure by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) that would require the DOD to study the “historically discriminatory manner in which marijuana offense laws have been enforced, the potential for continued discriminatory enforcement of the law (whether intentional or unintentional), and recommendations on steps to take to minimize the risk of such discrimination.

Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD) added an NDAA provision in committee to address cannabis sentencing standards under the military code, requiring the military justice review panel to “develop recommendations specifying ranges appropriate penalties for offenses involving the use and possession of marijuana”.

Another drug policy amendment appended to the House bill by Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) aims to eliminate the federal sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine.

It remains to be seen whether senators will agree to enact any of these reforms in the final bill, but they would not be included in the amendment proposed by Senate leaders to entirely replace the language of the bill of the Chamber by the chamber’s own approach which will be examined. when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill after the midterm elections.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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