One of a series of marijuana amendments that Congress will consider this week would allow military veterans to receive medical cannabis recommendations through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.).
“I truly think that this is a critical area of literally life and death for veterans,” Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), the amendment’s lead sponsor, argued before the House Rules Committee on Tuesday afternoon, pleading for the panel to allow the full chamber to vote on this measure this week. “An overwhelming number of veterans say that marijuana has helped them deal with PTSD, pain and other conditions, particularly as an alternative to addictive opioids.”
Citing statistics showing that an average of 22 military veterans a day commit suicide and that death rate from opioid overdoses among V.A. patients is nearly double the national average, Blumenauer said, “It’s essential that veterans be allowed to access this as a treatment if it’s legal in their state.”
Under a current internal V.A. administrative directive, government doctors are not allowed to fill out recommendation forms that would allow veterans to legally receive medical cannabis under state law. As a result, those wishing to try medical cannabis must look elsewhere.
“The current policy forces veterans outside the V.A. system to seek recommendations instead of speaking with their physicians, the people who best understand their needs and can offer an informed opinion one way or another,” Blumenauer said, adding that the process is “costly” and “confusing.”
His amendment, which he is seeking to attach to legislation funding the V.A. and other departments for fiscal year 2018, would simply prevent the government from spending money to enforce the current ban.
A similar measure was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this month by a bipartisan vote of 24 to 7.
Blumenauer is offering the proposal with a bipartisan group of eight other Democrats and nine Republicans (scroll below for the full list).
The House Rules Committee will make a determination Tuesday evening on which amendments will be allowed to advance to the floor later this week. While the panel is controlled by Republicans, and operates largely at the discretion of Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX), at least one other GOP member of the panel is on board with letting veterans get medical marijuana recommendations through the V.A.
“I’m one of those people that have seen firsthand the benefit that people can derive from medical marijuana. We’re not just talking smoking joints here,” said Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-WA). “There’s a lot of different derivatives that can be used that help people alleviate pain. It seems to me that if that’s available and it works we should make it available to our veterans as well, as long as it’s in accordance with state law.”
Last year, a similar amendment passed the House with a 233 to 189 margin, and a comparable rider also cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 20 to 10 before being passed by the full body.
But the provisions were later stripped out by the conference committee that merged both chambers’ separate legislation into a final V.A. appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2017.
“I sincerely hope that you will once again allow this amendment to be in order and for us to be able to focus on being able to help the V.A. help our veterans,” Blumenauer pleaded. “We would be far better off if our veterans had more access to marijuana and less reliance on opioids that is literally killing them.”
Advocates hope that the bigger margin of support in the Senate committee this year, combined with what they believe will be a similar increase on the House side, if a vote is allowed, will be enough to get the language enacted into law this time.
A full House vote on the amendment is not something that can be taken for granted, though.
Whereas spending bills have in years past been brought to the floor under rules that allow votes on almost any germane amendment, House Republicans last year began locking down the process after controversy surrounding riders concerning gun policy and the right of transgender people to access public bathrooms threatened the passage of some bills.
For parliamentary reasons, Blumenauer his cosponsors actually filed two veterans medical cannabis amendments on Monday. One is identical to the version that the Senate committee approved this month. But out of concern that it might be found out of order under House rules because it creates additional duties for federal officials, a second version that is identical to the rider as passed by the full House last year was also filed.
The House and Senate are also considering several other cannabis amendments this week.
See below for the text of the House veterans amendments:
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See below the the list of cosponsors for the House veterans amendments:
Justin Amash (MI)
Carlos Curbelo (FL)
Matt Gaetz (FL)
Tom Garrett (VA)
Duncan Hunter (CA)
Tom McClintock (CA)
Tom Reed (NY)
Dana Rohrabacher (CA)
Don Young (AK)
Earl Blumenauer (OR)
Steve Cohen (TN)
Luis Correa (CA)
Peter DeFazio (OR)
Barbara Lee (CA)
Ed Perlmutter (CO)
Mark Pocan (WI)
Jared Polis (CO)
Dina Titus (NV)