House won’t vote on marijuana amendments for veterans, public housing residents after committee snag

A key House committee on Monday rejected amendments to the bipartisan spending bill aimed at promoting veterans’ access to medical marijuana on procedural grounds, while another pair of measures aimed at protecting people who use cannabis in federally subsidized social housing was withdrawn before the panel had a chance to vote. .

Supporters had hoped that the House Rules Committee would put each of the amendments in order and allow them to be considered by the prosecution. But those hopes were dashed shortly on Monday amid disagreements over whether to pursue policy reform measures through spending legislation.

The panel also refused to allow a measure that includes provisions to make it easier to study Schedule I substances like marijuana and many psychedelics to move to floor voting.

Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH) tried to defend the relevance of his veterans amendments, which he had revised before the Rules meeting after consulting with the House member to avoid exactly this kind of problem. The latest version of the measure would have prevented the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from using its funds to enforce specific policies that prevent VA doctors from recommending medical cannabis to veterans, as well as a separate directive prohibiting VA to pay for marijuana as a covered health treatment.

In other words, it wouldn’t require VA to spend money a certain way, or even revise its rules. Instead, it would have imposed a restriction on spending to enforce certain cannabis policies mandated under a 2017 directive.

Meanwhile, the specific issue of allowing VA physicians to make medical marijuana recommendations was addressed in an amendment to a separate, unavoidable defense bill that passed the House last week.

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For appropriations legislation, the initial measure that Joyce and the bipartisan cosponsors filed before the most recent review would have further prevented the department from using its funding to prohibit veterans from using cannabis in accordance with state and tribal laws. .

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees VA spending, acknowledged Monday that she asked Joyce not to pursue the amendment at the floor level. committee. She felt that such a proposal should be dealt with through enabling legislation rather than appropriations.

The congresswoman also argued that a policy allowing VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis could expose them to federal enforcement action — a point apparently contradicted by a 2000 federal court ruling that determined that physicians have the First Amendment right to make recommendations for medical marijuana, even if they are not capable of “prescribing” it.

Regardless, Joyce said he disagreed with the president’s procedural assessment.

“This amendment, which would simply prevent federal funds from applying certain parts of [Veterans Health Administration] Directive 1315, is pretty straightforward,” he told members of the Rules Committee. “It’s common sense and relevant to the credits process.”

“To be clear, this amendment does not enact or authorize a new policy. It does not even call for the agency to develop a new rule or guideline, he said, adding that there is precedent to advance similar marijuana reform policies through spending legislation, such as an endorsement renewed annually since 2014 that bars the Justice Department from using its dollars to interfering in state legal medical cannabis programs.

“There is ample evidence that, when administered correctly, cannabis is an effective treatment for conditions ranging from PTSD and chronic pain to multiple sclerosis and seizure disorders,” he said. “I seriously encourage everyone on this committee to ask themselves if they are prepared to be what stands between veterans and these innovative therapies, with 18 veterans dying by suicide every day, countless more succumbing to pain. chronic and fallout from prescription opioids I know I’m not.

But even Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), a pro-legalization lawmaker who has championed marijuana banking reform through several legislative vehicles, appeared to question the prospects of his colleague’s proposal.

“I would say to my friend, you and I are pretty much on all fours about this,” Perlmutter said. “But I would say that the committee and the chair have a fair objection to it being a matter of legislating an appropriation bill and that you and I just have our work cut out for us and we just need to do adopt this thing so that there is no problem about it. , which we do pretty much 24/7.

In addition to the veterans amendment, the rules committee was also expected to take a pair of actions by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) that would have prevented the use of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds. to enforce the federal ban on the use or possession of cannabis for medical and recreational purposes in federally subsidized public housing.

But just before the committee hearing, the amendments have been removed. The reason for the decision more broadly had to do with the need to build buy-in for the reform in the House, rather than procedural complications, a source familiar with the thinking told Marijuana Moment.

HUD said in a letter to the congresswoman last year that it was obligated to continue to deny federally subsidized housing to people who use marijuana, even if they act according to state law. .

Norton sent a letter to HUD Sec. Marcia Fudge, imploring the department to use executive discretion and not punish people for cannabis in legal states. But HUD’s response was clear: It said that “pursuant to federal law, HUD prohibits the admission of marijuana users to HUD-assisted housing, including those who use marijuana for medical purposes. “.

Meanwhile, the Rules Committee also rejected two other drug policy changes to the spending package. One sponsored by Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) would have cut funding for an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program by $32 million and increased the budget for the National Forest System by 25 million to “support the enforcement and remedy of illegal marijuana trespassing.” cultivation sites on federal lands.

The other, from Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), would have simplified and streamlined the federal registration process to study Schedule I drugs such as cannabis and certain psychedelics while permanently classifying substances related to fentanyl in this restrictive category.

The bills to which these amendments could have been appended already contain a number of relevant reform measures. For example, there are provisions to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses from penalties from federal regulators, protect tribal cannabis programs, and remove certain restrictions on marijuana advertising in state-legal states. In a bill, the owners also ruled out a long-standing endorsement that prevented Washington, DC from implementing adult-use cannabis sales.

The rules committee must also propose a second separate set of spending bills that already contain a wide range of provisions on cannabis and psychedelics. For example, a key endorsement that the Appropriations Committee recently voted to include in one of these bills would protect state, U.S. territory, and tribal marijuana programs from interference by the Department of Justice.

Lawmakers on the panel also passed a separate defense bill earlier this month, making key amendments on cannabis and psychedelics in sequence, many of which passed last week. For example, the House approved Perlmutter’s marijuana bank measure, including under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

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