The Senate Appropriations Committee today approved an amendment that would allow doctors with Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to veterans suffering from PTSD, serious injuries, and other debilitating conditions. The amendment was approved on a vote of 18-12.
[image:1 align:right]The vote marked the first time any Senate body has approved a marijuana reform measure.
The vote came on an amendment to the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. The amendment was offered by Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and would undo a 2009 directive barring VA doctors from recommendin g medical marijuana even in states where it is legal.
Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) specifically prohibits its medical providers from completing forms brought by their patients seeking recommendations or opinions regarding participation in a state medical marijuana program. The Daines/Merkley amendment authorizes VA physicians and other health care providers to provide recommendations and opinions regarding the use of medical marijuana to veterans who live in medical marijuana states.
[image:2 align:left]The House narrowly defeated a similar amendment to its version of the appropriations bill. Now, the two versions of the bill must be reconciled.
Even if the move is killed in conference committee, a legislative version of the amendment is still alive in Congress. That is the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, sponsored by Sens. Corey Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY).
The vote was lauded by drug reform advocates.
"Veterans in medical marijuana states should be treated the same as any other resident, and should be able to discuss marijuana with their doctor and use it if it’s medically necessary," said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "They have served this country valiantly, so the least we can do is allow them to have full and open discussions with their doctors."
"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," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project.
[image:3 align:right caption:true]"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," Riffle continued.
"While we won five votes in a row on the House floor last year, this is the first time we've ever won a vote on a positive marijuana reform measure in the Senate," said Tom Angell, director of Marijuana Majority. "And with polls showing that a growing majority of voters supports ending prohibition, it's safe to say it won't be the last. Elected officials are finally starting to wake up to the fact that endorsing marijuana reform is good politics instead of the dangerous third-rail they've long viewed it as, and that means a lot more victories are on the way soon," he predicted.
Chronicle AM: Bernie Sanders on Pot, LA Pot Reform Bill Advances, New DEA Head Nominated, More (5/21/15)
Marijuana continues to dominate the drug policy news, plus public benefits drug testing bills move in Maine and Wisconsin, the NYPD decides not to bust middle-aged dopers, and more.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Bernie Sanders Mellow on Marijuana. The Vermont senator seeking the Democratic presidential nomination hinted at support for marijuana legalization during a Reddit question and answer session Tuesday, although he did not explicitly call for it. "I can tell you very few people were arrested for smoking marijuana [when I was mayor]," Sanders said. "Our police had more important things to do." He said he supported decriminalization in Vermont and was watching Colorado closely. "Colorado has led the effort toward legalizing marijuana and I’m going to watch very closely to see the pluses and minuses of what they have done,"Sanders said. "I will have more to say about this issue within the coming months."
Alabama Per Se Marijuana Drugged Driving Bill Advances. The state Senate last Friday approved Senate Bill 162, which would declare anyone driving with five nanograms of THC per milliliter guilty of drugged driving—whether he is actually impaired or not.
Louisiana Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a bill that would reduce the state's draconian marijuana possession sentencing. The measure is Senate Bill 241.
Maine Legalization Bills Get Hearing. The Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday heard testimony on a pair of marijuana legalization bills. Sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland), LD 1380 and its companion bill in the Senate would craft a regulatory structure for pot commerce and then put it before voters. If the legislature fails to act, the state could see two legalization initiatives next year.
Second Ohio Pot Legalization Initiative Certified for Signature-Gathering. The secretary of state's office has certified a legalization initiative from Better for Ohio, which means the group can now commence trying to gather the 306,000 signatures needed to qualify for this year's November ballot. Another group, ResponsibleOhio, is already in the signature-gathering phase.
No Decriminalization Initiative for Nashville. An effort by TN-NORML to put a marijuana decriminalization on the municipal ballot this year has apparently fallen short. Monday was the deadline day for handing in signatures, and TN-NORML didn't hand any in. Earlier, the group said it had only 4,000 signatures; it needed nearly 7,000 to qualify.
Colorado Governor Signs Bill Limiting Medical Marijuana Growers. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) Monday signed into law a bill that will limit medical marijuana caregivers to growing no more than 99 plants. The bill is Senate Bill 15-014. The bill also allows parents to have someone other than themselves grow medical marijuana for child patients and allows school districts to consider allowing medical marijuana use on campus.
Obama Nominates Chuck Rosenberg to Head DEA. FBI senior official and former US Attorney Chuck Rosenberg has been nominated to replace Michelle Leonhart as head of the DEA. For the last 18 months, Rosenberg has served as chief of staff to FBI Director James Comey. He previously served as US Attorney for Southern Texas and US Attorney for Eastern Virginia and has won support from Democrats and Republicans alike.
Wisconsin Public Benefits Drug Testing Bill Advances. A bill that would require applicants for welfare benefits, unemployment benefits, job training programs, and health coverage through the state-sponsored program to be assessed for drug use passed the Senate Budget Committee Wednesday. People whose assessments suggest they may be using drugs would have to take and pass a drug test to win benefits. A provision to include food stamp recipients was stripped out because it would likely be challenged by the federal government. The measure is Assembly Bill 192.
Maine Bill to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients Gets Hearing. The Health and Human Services Committee heard Monday from the administration of Gov. Paul LePage (R) about its bill that would require people on the food stamp program to take a written screening test to see if they are using drugs. If the assessment suggested they may be using drugs, they would have to submit to a drug test. People who tested positive could keep their benefits as long as they sought and completed drug treatment. The bill would also bar people with drug felonies from getting food stamps.
NYPD To Not Bust Middle-Aged Drug Offenders. The NYPD last week issued a memo instructing its narcs not to bust drug offenders over age 40 and instead concentrate on younger dealers. The department considers younger drug suspects to be more dangerous.
(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)