WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders on Tuesday ended marijuana supporters hopes for a floor debate on allowing veterans to talk about using cannabis to treat a variety of ailments with their Veterans Affairs doctors.
The bipartisan proposal, submitted as an amendment to a broader appropriations bill set for a full chamber vote later this week, was rejected by the House Rules Committee. In a statement, sponsor Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., criticized the decision.
“All we want is equal treatment for our wounded warriors,” he said. “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.”
Under current law, VA medical providers are prohibited from discussing or recommending medical marijuana as a treatment option with veterans, even if they live in a state where the drug is legal.
Earlier this month, Senate appropriators included language overturning that ban in their fiscal 2018 budget plans for VA. The House passed a similar plan last year by a 233-189 vote, and supporters were hopeful for a similar result this year.
But leadership instead tossed out the amendment, ending the debate.
The issue comes at a complicated time for marijuana advocates. The drug is currently legal for medical use in 29 states and for recreational use in eight. But it’s still classified as a dangerous addictive with “no accepted medical use” by the federal government, a distinction that has severely limited scientific research on the substance.
Advocates have pointed to a host of limited and international studies lauding cannabis for pain management. Last year, officials from the American Legion adopted a resolution supporting expanded research for its potential benefits to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other wounds of war.
So far, the White House has given no indication it plans to change the federal stance on marijuana. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in public remarks has promised increase scrutiny on states that allow its legal sale, and repeated the belief that the drug has no medicinal value.
VA Secretary David Shulkin has been softer in his approach, saying he would be open to reviewing whether the substance has benefits for veterans.
Blumenauer promised to continue his legislative fight. His proposal was co-sponsored by nine Republicans and eight Democrats, but faces a difficult legislative path as a stand-alone measure in the House.
“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,” Blumenauer said. “We have stronger support in the House and Senate than ever before, and we will keep advocating for a more rational approach.”
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.