A group of veterans and supporters march from the steps of the Legislative Building for a Twenty22Many rally on July 22, 2015, in Olympia, Wash. The group marched to promote reducing suicide rates among military veterans with help from medical marijuana. (Steve Bloom, The Olympian via AP)

GOP blocks amendment to allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to vets

The House Rules Committee decided Tuesday not to allow a medical marijuana amendment to proceed to a full vote, as part of the 2018 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill later this week.

The amendment would have prohibited federal funds from interfering with a veteran’s ability to take part in medical marijuana programs legalized in certain states. It would also allow Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors in those states to make appropriate recommendations, fill out forms, or take steps to comply with those programs.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), sponsor of the amendment, said in a statement, “All we want is equal treatment for our wounded warriors. 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.

“Given that veterans are more likely to commit suicide or die from opiate overdoses than civilians, our fight to provide them safer alternatives won’t stop here. We have stronger support in the House and Senate than ever before, and we will keep advocating for a more rational approach.”

According to Stars and Stripes, one committee Republican, Rep. Dan Newhouse (Washington), spoke in favor of the amendment. “I’ve seen firsthand the benefit people can derive from medical marijuana,” he said. “It seems to me if it’s available and it works, we should make that available to our veterans as well. I support your effort.”

The bipartisan amendment was co-sponsored by: Representatives Justin Amash (R-Michigan), Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), Luis Correa (D-California), Carlos Curbelo (R-Florida), Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), Tom Garrett (R-Virginia), Duncan Hunter (R-California), Barbara Lee (D-California), Tom McClintock (R-California), Ed Perlmutter (D-Colorado), Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin), Jared Polis (D-Colorado), Tom Reed (R-New York), Dana Rohrabacher (R-California), Dina Titus (D-Nevada), and Don Young (R-Alaska).

After the committee’s decision, Titus tweeted: “It would pass. I’ll keep fighting.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a similar amendment on July 13 by a 24-7 vote. Once the bill clears the House, a bipartisan conference committee will determine whether to include it in the final reconciled bill.

Both the House and Senate passed a similar amendment last year. But that provision, as the Military Times reported in June 2016, disappeared from the final VA funding bill after Republicans removed it during a concurrence vote.

The amendments had the support of powerful veterans organizations, including The American Legion. The nation’s largest veterans service group supports additional legislative steps to expedite its passage into law, spokesman Joe Plenzler told The Cannabist last week.

Because cannabis is a Schedule I drug, prohibited at the federal level, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) specifically prohibits VA medical providers from prescribing medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

In his May “State of the VA” address, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin made the agency’s position clear. “Until the time that federal law changes,” he said, “we are not able to be able to prescribe medical marijuana for conditions that may be helpful.”