House Republican leadership is blocking floor consideration of several marijuana amendments on issues ranging from military veterans’ access to medical cannabis to water rights for cultivators.
Despite passionate pleas and support from members of both parties, particularly on the veterans issue, the House Rules Committee on Tuesday night ruled that the marijuana amendments were not in order and would not receive votes by the full chamber this week.
Earlier in the day, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), the veterans amendment’s lead sponsor, testified before the committee that it was “a critical area of literally life and death.”
Many military veterans use cannabis to treat physical pain caused by war wounds or to manage the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
But under a current internal U .S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) administrative directive, government doctors are not allowed to fill out recommendation forms that would let veterans legally receive medical cannabis under state law.
Blumenauer’s measure, which he sought 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 in states where medical cannabis is legal.
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, he said, “It’s essential that veterans be allowed to access this as a treatment if it’s legal in their state.”
Republican Congressman Dan Newhouse of Washington State, a Rules Committee member, also voiced his support.
“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,” he told his fellow committee members. “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.”
But those pleas, and the fact that the amendment was adopted by the House last year by a vote of 233 to 189, or that the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a similar measure this month with a bipartisan margin of 24 to 7, were not enough to convince Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX), to allow a floor vote.
Eighteen lawmakers — nine Democrats and nine Republicans — cosponsored the veterans cannabis proposal, more than any of the other 333 amendments filed before the committee. A total of 72 of those were approved for floor consideration.
After the news about the amendment being blocked broke late Tuesday night, Blumenauer’s office sent a press release pointing out that the measure had “stronger support in the House and Senate than ever before.”
“All we want is equal treatment for our wounded warriors,” the congressman said in the statement. “This provision overwhelmingly passed on the House floor last year – and bipartisan support has only grown. It’s outrageous that the Rules Committee won’t even allow a vote for our veterans. They deserve better. They deserve compassion.”
Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV), one of the cosponsors of the veterans amendment, pledged to “keep fighting.”
— Dina Titus (@repdinatitus) July 26, 2017
Blumenauer also took to Twitter to restate his commitment to keep pushing the issue.
Our vets are dying from opiate overdoses at alarming rates. You better believe we're going to keep fighting to get them safer alternatives.
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) July 26, 2017
The Rules Committee also did not allow three amendments addressing water rights for marijuana and hemp cultivators to advance to the floor.
Whereas spending bills have in years past been brought to the floor under open 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.
As a result, amendments on cannabis businesses’ access to banks and Washington, D.C.’s ability to spend its own money legally regulating marijuana sales were blocked from floor consideration last summer.
The veterans access issue isn’t necessarily dead for the year. Advocates hope that because the provision was inserted into the Senate’s version of V.A. funding legislation with such a strong bipartisan vote that the conference committee that later merges the two chambers’ bills together into a single proposal will adopt the language.
However, a conference committee stripped the veterans cannabis provision out of last year’s bill even though it had been approved by strong bipartisan majorities in both chambers. This time, there won’t even be a House vote on the measure.
The Senate version of the bill that covers the U.S. Department of Energy and water regulations contains an amendment protecting hemp growers’ water rights, a result of a voice vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee last week.
Meanwhile, that panel is expected to consider an amendment to continue blocking the U.S. Department of Justice from interfering with state medical cannabis laws on Thursday.
This post was originally published on July 25, 2017, it was updated on July 26, 2017.