Republican Congressman Urges Conservatives to Support Medical Marijuana Ahead of Crucial Budget Rules Vote
On Tuesday after Congress returned from recess, Rep. Dana Rohrbacher published a column in the Washington Post asking his conservative colleagues to support his budget amendment that would protect state-legal medical marijuana patients and providers from federal interference.
Not long ago, a supporter of mine, visiting from California, dropped by my Capitol office. A retired military officer and staunch conservative, he and I spent much of our conversation discussing the Republican agenda.
Finally, I drew a breath and asked him about an issue I feared might divide us: the liberalization of our marijuana laws, specifically medical marijuana reform, on which for years I had been leading the charge. What did he think about that controversial position?
“Dana,” he replied, “there are some things about me you don’t know.” He told me about his three sons, all of whom enlisted after 9/11.
Two of his sons returned from the battlefield whole and healthy. The third, however, came home suffering multiple seizures each day. His prospects were bleak.
His medical care fell under the total guidance of the Department of Veterans Affairs, whose doctors came under federal restraints regarding the treatments they could prescribe. (Among the treatments allowed were opioids.) Nothing worked.
Finally, a sympathetic doctor advised our young hero to see him in his private office, where he could prescribe medication derived from cannabis. The prescription worked. The seizures, for the most part, ceased.
“Dana,” said my friend, “I could hug you right now for what you’ve been doing, unknowingly, for my son.”
What had I been doing? With my Democrat friend Sam Farr, the now-retired California congressman, I wrote an amendment to spending bills that prohibits the federal government from prosecuting medical marijuana cases in states where voters have legalized such treatment. The amendment passed two consecutive years, the second time with a wider margin than the first, and has been extended through continuing resolutions and an omnibus spending bill.
Unfortunately, my longtime friend Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, has urged Congress to drop the amendment, now co-sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). This, despite President Trump’s belief, made clear in his campaign and as president, that states alone should decide medical marijuana policies.
I should not need to remind our chief law enforcement officer nor my fellow Republicans that our system of federalism, also known as states’ rights, was designed to resolve just such a fractious issue. Our party still bears a blemish for wielding the “states’ rights” cudgel against civil rights. If we bury state autonomy in order to deny patients an alternative to opioids, and ominously federalize our police, our hypocrisy will deserve the American people’s contempt.
The amendment must be approved by the House Rules Committee in order to get a vote, where it will likely be approved for the FY 2018 federal budget. If it is not, a conference committee will need to choose the Senate version of the budget later this month. If one of these two options doesn't happen, medical marijuana patients and providers will be open to federal prosecution once again.
We can't let these protections expire. Please contact your lawmakers and ask them to support medical marijuana, and to ask their colleagues on the House Rules Committee to rule the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment "in order."
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved an amendment to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill that is intended to ease access to medical marijuana for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, serious injuries, and other debilitating conditions.
The amendment, authored by Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), would prohibit the spending of funds on enforcement of a Veterans Health Administration directive that prohibits VA physicians from recommending medical marijuana to their patients, even in states that have made it legal.
If enacted, VA physicians would no longer face penalties for discussing medical marijuana with their patients or completing the paperwork patients must submit in order to participate in state medical marijuana programs. Currently, veterans in states with medical marijuana laws must find a doctor outside of the VA system to discuss medical marijuana as a treatment option and provide the requisite documentation.
On this Veterans Day, MPP would like to thank those who served for their sacrifice, and we are excited to note that a Senate vote yesterday brought them one step closer to being able to access medical marijuana.
U.S. News reports:
The Veterans Health Administration currently does not allow its physicians to discuss marijuana as a treatment option with patients in the nearly two dozen states with medical pot laws, forcing veterans to turn elsewhere for guidance and the paperwork necessary to acquire the drug.
The Senate legislation won’t change the federal illegality of using marijuana as medicine or open the door to greater legal research through changing its classification as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act – which deems it without medical value – but it’s nonetheless a big win for reform advocates.
The Senate measure was adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee in May by a vote of 18-12, with four Republicans joining Democrats in favor. The larger spending bill to which it was attached – funding veterans and military construction projects – passed the Senate without opposition Tuesday.
The medical marijuana language still must survive a negotiated spending deal between leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The lower chamber narrowly rejected the proposal in April when it passed its own version of the bill.
U.S. Senate Committee Votes to Prohibit Justice Department From Interfering in State Medical Marijuana Laws
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved a measure 20-10 on Thursday that is intended to prevent the federal government from interfering in state medical marijuana laws.
The amendment, offered by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to the Senate version of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, prohibits the Justice Department, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, from using funds to interfere in the implementation of state laws that allow the cultivation, distribution, and use of marijuana for medical purposes. It mirrors the amendment sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) that was approved last week in the House of Representatives. Passage of identical amendments in the House and Senate typically indicates it will be included in the final spending bill Congress sends to President Obama.
This was the first time the amendment had been offered in the Senate. The House has passed it in each of the last two years, and it was codified in the so-called “CRomnibus” funding measure that became law last year. The amendment is similar to the operative provisions of the CARERS Act, introduced in March by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY).
This is the second time in as many months that the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a marijuana policy reform measure. On May 21, the committee voted to allow doctors within the Veterans Affairs system to formally recommend medical marijuana to veterans.
U.S. Senate Committee Approves Measure That Would Allow Veterans Affairs Physicians to Recommend Medical Marijuana
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved a measure 18-12 Thursday that would allow Veterans Affairs physicians to recommend medical marijuana to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, serious injuries, and other debilitating conditions.
The amendment, offered by Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to the Senate version of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, would rescind a portion of a 2009 directive prohibiting VA doctors from recommending medical marijuana, even in states that have made it legal.
The amendment must now be reconciled with the House version of the bill. The House narrowly defeated a similar amendment 210-213 on April 30. A similar measure was defeated 195-222 in 2014.
According to MPP's Dan Riffle:
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers came together and passed broadly supported marijuana policy reform. This is exactly how most Americans want Congress to handle this issue. Hopefully we are reaching a point at which it is becoming the norm, rather than the exception. The pace at which support appears to be growing in the Senate is particularly encouraging.
Doctors should never be prohibited from helping their patients obtain the best possible medical treatment. Many veterans are finding that medical marijuana is the most effective treatment for PTSD and other service-related medical conditions. Finally, Congress is working to remove barriers to accessing it rather than building them.
Major news! The Department of Veterans Affairs has formally announced that patients being treated at V.A. facilities will be allowed to use medical marijuana if they live in one of the 14 states where it is legal.
This historic development was trumpeted over the weekend in a front-page New York Times story that quoted MPP’s Steve Fox. “We now have a branch of the federal government accepting marijuana as a legal medicine,” Steve told the Times, adding that the department needs to make its guidelines clear to patients and V.A. officials nationwide.
Under the policy, V.A. doctors still won’t be allowed to recommend marijuana to patients, but legal medical marijuana users will not be automatically precluded from pain management programs. Previously, many veterans believed they could lose access to prescription pain medications if they were found to be using medical marijuana, and some—including an Army veteran interviewed by The Times—were even told they needed to choose between medical marijuana and other pain medications. This latest policy clarification should prevent similar future incidents.
But there is still more that needs to be done. The new policy does not apply to patients or veterans in the 36 states where medical marijuana is still illegal. Many veterans rely on the V.A. for all their healthcare needs as well, and even if they live in a medical marijuana state, they may not be able to receive a recommendation from a non-V.A. doctor.
Regardless, this is a huge step forward – and one more crack in the federal government’s baseless opposition to sane medical marijuana policies.
Colorado medical marijuana advocates and a group of local veterans filed a petition with the state health department yesterday that would add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana in Colorado.
The petition was formally filed by Army veteran and double amputee Kevin Grimsinger, who lost parts of both legs and suffered other injuries after stepping on a landmine in Afghanistan in 2001. That episode has also left him stricken with PTSD. From Denver Post columnist Susan Greene:
That means flashbacks. It means struggling to sleep and thinking about suicide more often than he cares to admit. His nightmares are constant, he says. "They're bloody, they're noisy and they're gory."
After two years in hospitals, Grimsinger was released addicted "to every pain medication known to man," he tells me. It wasn't until turning to therapeutic cannabis, along with other prescriptions, that he says he has been able to function. Medical marijuana doesn't take away his trauma. But it gives him a break long enough to sleep.
We’ve written previously about studies showing how marijuana can alleviate the symptoms of PTSD, how New Mexico has already added it to that state’s list of qualifying conditions, and how some Colorado officials and even the Department of Veterans Affairs have thus far opposed efforts to make medical marijuana available to PTSD patients and other veterans in need.
As Sensible Colorado’s Brian Vicente, who helped file the petition, told Denver’s Westword: “We've been hearing from veterans for years who have been injured in the line of duty protecting our country and have PTSD related to that. And they're concerned about the lack of veteran access for medical marijuana for PTSD. Currently, veterans face criminal prosecution for possessing or using medical marijuana to alleviate any sort of medical condition, and we just think that's unconscionable. People who have served our country deserve the best access to health care possible, and we want to make sure Kevin and folks like him have that access.”
A story out of New Mexico yesterday sheds light on the dilemma facing many veterans who could benefit from medical marijuana and rely solely on the Department of Veterans Affairs for their health care.
Taking guidance from the DEA, the VA does not allow its doctors to recommend medical marijuana. Those who do will face civil and criminal penalties, in addition to the loss of their license. (Veterans can still try to obtain a recommendation from an outside physician.)
This policy is unchanged in states where medical marijuana is legal, such as New Mexico, where the most common affliction of those enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program is post-traumatic stress disorder—something experienced by one in five returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a 2008 study.
But rather than help veterans access such safe and effective treatment, the VA’s current policy, according to one veteran, has forced many sufferers of PTSD to rely on more addictive prescription drugs, or self-medication with alcohol and other dangerous substances.
Is this really how we want to treat the veterans of our armed services?