United States Senators have filed another pair of medical marijuana amendments to a large-scale defense bill. If the new proposals are enacted, we will see the legalization of medical marijuana for military veterans and additional pressure added to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to make sure that the men and women who served in uniform do not get passed up on federal home loan benefits due to the reason of them being employed within the cannabis industry.
Two weeks ago, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) filed new measures to ensure marijuana use could not be used as grounds to deny federal security clearances. These new measures are part of the latest marijuana-related legislation amendments proposed to the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) has also introduced an amendment, the Veterans Medical Marijuana Sage Harbor Act, that mirrors the language of a standalone bill.
The measures introduced by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) propose that the senate should allow veterans to legally possess and use marijuana under federal law when recommended by licensed health practitioners in line with state law. Medical physicians with the VA would be allowed to issue cannabis as a treatment recommendation for the first time. This would require the VA to study the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis for pain and to help reduce opioid misuse.
In addition to the above amendments being added to the NDAA, Senators Jack Rosen (D-NV) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) both filled their amendment to the NDAA that expresses “the sense of Congress” that veterans should be allowed to access the VA home loans based on the income that has been derived from State-legalized marijuana activities.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has clarified that nothing within the statute excludes veterans from obtaining home loan benefits if they are employed within state-legal cannabis marijuana businesses. The amendment states that many veterans continue to be denied access to federal home loans based on the biases of their income derived from State-legalized cannabis activities.
The senators have stated that the VA needs to improve its communication surrounding eligible lending institutions to help reduce the confusion among both lenders and borrowers surrounding this matter.
Within the House side, the chamber has approved an identical amendment as part of the NDAA this summer. The amendment was introduced by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA). The amendment introduced by Rep Clark would see measures to outright prohibit the home loan denials that veterans experience. However, the amendment was changed to a non-binding form before it passed in the House.
The House further adopted a proposal from Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Brian Mast (R-Fl). The approved amendments would codify that VA doctors can now discuss and issue recommendations for medical marijuana to veterans. However, the approved amendments fell shy of explicitly legalizing medical cannabis possession for veterans.
The Senate is using the House Bill as a vehicle for the NDAA. However, the chamber is currently expected to vote on an amendment to replace the existing text with its language, and the new amendments would therefore revise the current version.
The Senate will go further with the House regarding other drug reform policy measures that cleared the chamber in July. The drug reform policies include additional provisions relating to cannabis banking and psychedelics research.
In addition, Senate leaders are seeking to add a separate section for broader intelligence legislation to the NDAA that includes a provision to prevent the denial of security clearances relating to cannabis when approved earlier this year by a Senate committee.
Two weeks ago, two GOP senators protested the inclusion of the cannabis language, and the language was removed from the measure. The sponsor then separately filed a broader amendment relating to the issue.
One of the latest proposals from Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) aims to prevent the denial of federal security clearances for people using cannabis at any time. In contrast, the other proposal seeks to limit the protection to people who have and will admit to past cannabis use before entering the national security vetting process.
Senators Jon Cornyn (R-TX) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) have objected to adding the standalone Intelligence Authorization Act to the NDAA if the act included his previous cannabis security clearance provision, which has approved by the Intelligence Committee over the summer.
(Sen. Cornyn separately blocked a House-passed bipartisan marijuana research bill from and expedited Senate floor vote last week, objecting to its consideration under unanimous consent.)
Sen. Wyden’s earlier amendment to the NDAA had already been watered down by a committee before being adopted.
The senator’s amendment would have prevented any Federal agency from being able to deny or revoke an individual’s eligibility to access classified information purely based on past or present use of marijuana.
The amendment was changed to only apply to past cannabis use, and that protection would only apply to people who work in intelligence agencies instead of any federal agencies.
Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) proposed amendments to NDAA two weeks ago. These amendments call for tribal, state, federal, and local collaboration to address the remediation of lands damaged by illegal cannabis cultivation.
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