Aaron Rosengarten 10-9-2022

As it stands, because marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist veterans in obtaining it. However according to the VA, a veteran’s participation in a state marijuana program does not negatively affect their eligibility for VA care and services. While not able to recommend its use, VA providers can and do discuss marijuana use with veterans. Because of the recent amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), veterans may now receive access to medical marijuana and receive various protections as a result of being involved with the cannabis industry.  

Senators have introduced a pair of amendments to the NDAA, which, if enacted, would legalize medical marijuana for military veterans and would prohibit military veterans from missing out on federal home loan benefits simply for working in the cannabis industry. This isn’t the first pair of cannabis-related amendments proposed to be added to the NDAA.

Last week, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) filed measures to make it so marijuana use, by itself, could not be grounds to deny federal security clearances. As introduced, the proposal would have “prohibited any Federal Agency from denying or revoking an individual’s eligibility for access to classified information solely because of past or present use of cannabis.” However, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) 89 and John Cornyn (R-TX) 70, raised an objection to this proposal prompting it to be changed to protecting only past marijuana use and protecting individuals who work for intelligence agencies, rather than any federal agency. Additionally, on September 29, 2022, Brian Schatz (D-HI) 49 introduced an amendment that mirrors the language of the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, which would allow veterans to legally possess and use cannabis under federal law, as recommended by physicians in accordance with applicable state laws. Physicians with the VA would also be allowed to recommend the use of medical marijuana for the first time. The measure also requires that the VA study the therapeutic potential of marijuana for pain and reducing opioid misuse.

An amendment filed by Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) 65 and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) 68 would prohibit veterans from being denied access to VA home loans on the basis of income derived from state-legalized cannabis activities. Although the VA explained that there is nothing in the statute precluding veterans from receiving home loan benefits if they work at a state-legal marijuana business, many veterans continue to be denied access to these loans on this basis. This amendment would prohibit this from occurring.

The House approved an identical amended as part of the NDAA over the summer, which would have outright prohibited the home loan denials, but it was changed to non-binding form before passing. The House also adopted a proposal from Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) 74 and Brian Mast (R-FL) 42 that would allow VA doctors to discuss and issue recommendations for medical cannabis to veterans. This proposal, however, did not explicitly legalize medical marijuana possession for veterans.

Currently, in the House-passed version of the NDAA, there are more drug policy reform components. Included are proposals to protect banks that work with state-legal cannabis businesses. This banking amendment was adopted by the house as part of last year’s NDAA but was not passed by the Senate. An amendment was also adopted allowing for VA doctors to have issuing authority of medical marijuana and goes further by prohibiting federal employers from discriminating against veterans who use or have used marijuana. Another amendment, which passed the House, builds on another measure that requires the Department of Defense (DOD) to study marijuana as an opioid alternative in the treatment of service members with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and severe pain. Additionally, there is also a proposal to widen the scope of that research to include psilocybin and MDMA. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) 38 introduced an amendment that passed in the House, which would allow for the Secretary of Defense to approve grants for research into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics such as MDMA, psilocybin, ibogaine and 5-MeO-DMT for active-duty military members with PTSD. Representative Anthony Brown (D-MD) 60 added a provision addressing sentencing standards under the military code, mandating that the Military Justice Review Panel “develop recommendations specifying appropriate sentencing ranges for offenses involving the use and possession of marijuana.”

Only time will tell if the Senate will approve these measures when they vote on the NDAA. However, this won’t be considered until after lawmakers return to Capitol Hill after the midterm elections. With the addition of these amendments, service members will receive the benefits of medical marijuana and receive protections from seeking such treatment and/or being involved in the cannabis industry.