The U.S. House of Representatives has approved amendments to a large-scale spending bill that would allow U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to recommend medical cannabis to military veterans and promote research into substances like psilocybin and MDMA.
Just one day after the House Rules Committee made the measures in order for floor consideration, they passed on the floor on Wednesday and are advancing as part of appropriations legislation covering Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies (MilCon/VA).
The medical cannabis measure, which was filed by the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus—Reps. Brian Mast (R-FL), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Barbara Lee (D-CA)—passed in a voice vote.
Their amendment, which was later cosponsored by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL), would specifically prohibit the use of VA funds to enforce provisions of an existing directive that bars doctors from making medical cannabis recommendations to veterans.
Veterans face a “Department of Veterans Affairs that does not allow their primary care physicians, their post-deployment clinics, to discuss the medical treatment options,and work with them through the paperwork for those medical treatment options that are actually available in their states,” Mast said. “If they’re not working with their doctors to do that, then you have to ask yourself who is it that they would be working with to do that for medical treatment.”
Blumenauer said that “veterans in Oregon and across the country have shared powerful stories with me about how medical cannabis has saved their lives and given relief from wounds of war seen and unseen.”
“These veterans have also shared their fear about what happened if they work with the VA doctors to incorporate their cannabis use into their treatment plans. The VA denies veterans access to this care option by preventing providers from completing forms in compliance with state medical marijuana programs,” he said. “This is a shameful disservice to the men and women who put their lives on the line. The VA is forcing veterans to seek care outside the VA or self medicate. Our veterans are paying the price for Congress’s failure to act.”
Joyce also spoke in favor of the amendment, saying he’s “proud to join my colleagues in leading this common sense effort to help our country’s veterans access medical treatment.”
“I’ve seen firsthand the many challenges our nation’s heroes face when they return home,” he said. “We should all be resolved to help expand access to treatments for the medical challenges, both mental and physical, our nation’s veterans experience.”
The measure passed despite Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), a former chair of the Democratic National Committee, joining Rep. John Carter (R-TX) in voicing opposition to it on practical grounds, arguing that it could put VA doctors in legal jeopardy if they actually fill out forms to recommend medical cannabis to veterans.
Despite their opposition, no one requested that a recorded vote be taken to challenge the measure’s passage via voice vote.
The provisions of the amendment were revised ahead of the Rules
Committee meeting on Tuesday. It previously shared the same language as an amendment that was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee last month for that chamber’s version of the spending legislation. If the House proposal hadn’t been changed, that likely would have increased its chances of being adopted into law as part of the final conference report—but now there will have to be bipartisan and bicameral discussion about which, if any, version will be enacted.
Legislation to allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to patients have advanced through both chambers in recent sessions. In 2016, the House and Senate both adopted different versions of the reform in their spending bills—but neither made it into the final conference report following negotiations.
Meanwhile, the House also adopted, by a voice vote, an amendment from Reps. Lou Correa (D-CA) and Jack Bergman (R-MI) that would encourage research into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics.
“If psychedelic-assisted therapy can treat a veterans PTSD or prevent them from taking their own life, then we owe it to them to take an active role in researching these potentially life saving therapies,” Bergman said on the floor. “This amendment will unlock potential treatments that have been shown to actually cure PTSD—something current medicine and modern psychology have been unable to do—and give our veterans a chance to live a long, happy life that we all take for granted.”
No members rose to speak against the measure;