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Cannabis Bills in Congress

Two Medical Cannabis Bills Move Forward in Congress

There is progress, albeit slow, on the passage of federal legislation for medical cannabis. Two bills have moved forward in Congress in the past week alone. The Medical Cannabis Research Act was sent to the House floor for a vote after passage by the House Judiciary Committee. The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act passed in both the House and Senate.

The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, was filed on September 5, 2018, in the Senate. On September 12, 2018, the full Senate voted 85-9 in favor of ActAfter it was passed, during the House/Senate reconciliation process, a few congressional leaders removed the provision, the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, that would allow veterans equal access to medical cannabis usage through VA doctors. The amendment had been approved by a voice vote last June in the Appropriations Committee. R-MT Senator Steve Daines spearheaded that legislation.

The entire point of this piece of legislation was to allow VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis to veterans in states with existing medical cannabis programs. Legislators have repeatedly denied veterans access to medical cannabis through the VA, despite the support of 81% of veterans. 93% of Americans support the use of medical cannabis when recommended by a doctor. The bill was originally sponsored by 2 Democratic senators; Brian Nelson of Florida, and Bill Schatz of Hawaii. It would have given veterans suffering from PTSD, chronic pain, depression, sleep problems and other conditions access to medical cannabis through VA hospitals. VA doctors would finally be allowed to sign recommendations for medical cannabis for veterans, something they have repeatedly been denied by the federal government. The second part of the legislation subsidizes VA cannabis treatment research in the form of studies on veterans with $15 million in federal funds.

The American Legion, the largest wartime veterans’ service organization, has been lobbying federal officials for years to pass legislation to grant veterans’ access to medical cannabis through the VA. A poll conducted on November 2, 2017, by the American Legion with 800 respondents, determined that one in four veterans currently uses cannabis to control the symptoms of PTSD and for sleep, amongst other conditions.

The second piece of legislation, The Medical Cannabis Research Act, makes it easier for researchers to study the uses, benefits and risk factors of medical cannabis. Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is the sponsor of the bill. This bill would allow cannabis researchers to perform their work without fear of legal repercussions.

Rep Gaetz said, in a statement, “For too long, Congress has faced a dilemma with cannabis-related legislation: we cannot reform cannabis law without researching its safety, its efficacy and its medical uses – but we cannot perform this critical research without first reforming cannabis law.”

The bill would require AG Jeff Sessions to issue more licenses to grow cannabis for research. For the past 50 years, there has been only one legal source of cannabis for research in the US; a farm at the University of Mississippi. Researchers have consistently complained that not only is it difficult to gain access to the product but that it is often of poor quality, full of mold and mildew, with only a few different strains of potency. This bill would actually strip the Department of Justice from making these decisions by giving Congress the ability to grant more licenses in a timely manner.

The legislation would finally allow VA doctors to discuss medical cannabis usage with veterans and to refer them to participate in human studies on cannabis. It still continues to deny veterans from receiving recommendations from VA doctors to receive medical cannabis through the VA.

While the bill is a step in the right direction, cannabis reform advocates are troubled by some of the bill’s provisions that bars people with a felony or drug-related misdemeanor conviction from participating in federal cannabis research. This would impact people of color who are much more likely to have been convicted of non-violent drug charges than caucasians. They also object to a requirement that manufacturers receive recommendations in good standing from local law enforcement agencies. Michael Collins, of the Drug Policy Alliance, feels that these provisions will be a deal breaker for the bill and that cannabis reformers are not likely to support it if these provisions are allowed to stand.

Representative Gaetz agrees that it is not ideal, but he sees it as necessary in order to get other Republican lawmakers to support the bill. Case in point; Judiciary Committee Chairman, Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who has consistently opposed cannabis reform, became a cosponsor of the bill.

In addition to these bills, the DEA is also recommending more than a 400% increase in the amount of cannabis that can be legally grown in the US for research; from 1,000 pounds in 2018 to 5,400 pounds in 2019.

Source: thehill.com, Congress Just Failed Our nation’s Veterans When It Comes To Medical Marijuana, Justin Strekal, 09/12/18

Forbes.com, Marijuana Bill Schedules For Congressional Vote This Week, Tom Angell, 09/10/18

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