Bipartisan congressional lawmakers are looking to use a must-pass defense bill as a vehicle to advance a number of drug policy reform proposals, including provisions to expand access to medical marijuana for military veterans, facilitate the rescheduling of certain psychedelics and protect people from being denied security clearances over marijuana.
More than 1,400 amendments have been filed so far for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). And, as has become tradition, members are hoping that the legislation will be used to enact the drug policy reforms when Congress reconvenes after the July 4th recess.
Some amendments are familiar—like one that would authorize doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to issue medical cannabis recommendations to veterans living in legalized states. That’s also the subject of standalone legislation sponsored by bipartisan members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.
Others are more novel. For example, there are amendments from Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) that would promote MDMA-assisted therapy for veterans.
The amendments to the large-scale defense legislation, which the House Armed Services Committee has already revised to include two medical cannabis and psychedelics provisions, would need to be made in order in the House Rules Committee in order to receive consideration on the floor.
Under the psychedelics measure from Rep. Morgan Luttrell (R-TX) that’s already part of the bill following committee action, the defense secretary would be required to carry out a clinical trial into the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics for active duty service members with PTSD, traumatic brain injury or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
The clinical trials would need to involve psilocybin, MDMA, ibogaine or DMT. The secretary would need to provide lawmakers with a report within one year of the enactment of the legislation with information about trial findings. A few of the latest proposed revisions to NDAA seek to further amend this language.
Meanwhile, the cannabis amendment has been attached in committee calls for a defense department medical cannabis pilot program that would examine the health impacts of marijuana use by veterans and service members who are VA beneficiaries. To be eligible for the program, the VA participant would need to have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression or anxiety, or have been prescribed pain management.
Here’s a rundown of the new drug policy amendments that have been filed for the NDAA so far in the House Rules Committee:
Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA): Prohibit the denial of security clearances for defense department workers based solely on their use of marijuana if the activity is legal at the state level.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL): Prohibit drug testing for marijuana as a requirement for military enlistment.
Reps. Brian Mast (R-FL), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR): Allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to veterans living in states where marijuana has been legalized for therapeutic purposes.
Reps. Dave Joyce, (R-OH), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Jason Crow (D-CO) : Require the defense secretary to develop a plan to provide reenlistment waivers to service members who test positive for THC.
Reps. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dina Titus (D-NV), Jared Moskowitz (D-FL), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Rick Larsen (D-WA): Expedite the waiver process for military recruits and applicants who admit to prior cannabis use by allowing the lowest-level defense employees to issue such waivers. A second amendment with a similar aim was also filed by the same sponsors.
Reps. Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Nancy Mace (R-SC), Bill Johnson (R-OH), Jasmine Crockett (D-TX) and Blumenauer: Empower the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to transfer drugs like psilocybin and MDMA that have received “breakthrough therapy” designations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX): Expand the bill’s existing psychedelics study provisions to create a DOD grant program to fund research that investigate the therapeutic utility of the substances for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Crenshaw is also sponsoring a standalone bill to this effect.
Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA): Following the Department of Defense- (DOD) led clinical trial into the therapeutic efficacy of psychedelics that’s already in the bill, the agency would need to include in its report a recommendation on next steps for further exploring the therapeutic option.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI): Require the defense department to submit its findings on the psychedelics trials that it would be required to conduct under the bill to VA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and relevant congressional committees—and not just the House Armed Services Committee as the legislation currently says.
Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO): One amendment would express the “sense of Congress” that MDMA “should be recognized as a treatment” for PTSD and require the head of VA to create a plan for such treatment if FDA approves its use. A second amendment contains the same expression of the sentiment of Congress but does not include the action item for VA.
Reps. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), Stephanie Bice (R-OK), Nancy Mace (R-SC), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Steven Horsford (D-NV), Bobby Scott (D-VA), David Trone (D-MD) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA): Eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY): Ban the U.S. military practice of aerial fumigation in Colombia to eradicate crops like the coca plant used to manufacture cocaine.
Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-WI): Authorize the use of military resources to combat illegal drug trafficking at the U.S.-Mexico border.
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While two psychedelics-related provisions of the House’s version of the NDAA were omitted from the final deal last year, lawmakers did secure report language instructing the secretary of defense to conduct a study looking at the “feasibility and advisability of conducting a study on the use of certain pharmacologic or potential plant-based therapies as alternatives to prescription opioids for the treatment of PTSD, TBI, or chronic pain.”
A number of other marijuana items—including an attempt to pass cannabis banking reform through the must-pass defense bill—were also excluded, to the disappointment of advocates and stakeholders.
Separately, the Senate Appropriations Committee recently released a report for a spending bill that calls on VA to facilitate medical marijuana access for veterans and explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.