How close are we to legalizing weed? Here are 5 marijuana bills vital for veterans

Matt Saintsing
April 20, 2018 - 10:15 am

Photo by Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee/TNS

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Marijuana has moved beyond the fringes of society and has become big business in the United States. The biggest day for the industry and consumers alike is April 20, commonly referred to as “4/20.”

In addition to its recreational uses, many veterans use the plant as medicine to help cope with the physical and mental wounds from war—both the invisible and plainly seen.

The past year has been a watershed moment for cannabis and veterans, so we decided to round up the five of the most important marijuana bills for veterans that are currently sitting in Congress. 

H.R. 5520: VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act

A bipartisan measure introduced this week in the House would clarify the VA’s authority on whether the agency can research marijuana.

Photo by Jose Luis Villegas/Sacramento Bee/MCT/Sipa USA

Some veterans are already using cannabis as a viable alternative to highly addictive and potentially fatal opioids in treating ailments associated with their military service, such as post-traumatic stress and chronic pain.

The bill would authorize VA to advance such research and require the department to report any findings to Congress over a five-year period.

This legislation already has a fairly good chance of getting out of committee as it was introduced by Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn), the ranking minority-party member of the committee.

“As a physician, I’m keenly aware of the need to look for opioid alternatives to treat patients’ chronic pain,” Roe said in a statement. “I’ve heard from many veterans, both with physical and invisible wounds, who believe medical cannabis could benefit them.”

There are 35 other co-sponsors, including seven Republicans. Leaders in the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs are currently reviewing companion legislation.

H.R. 1820: The Veterans Equal Access Act

Introduced last year by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR.), this bill would expand medical marijuana access to eligible military veterans.

As it stands now, VA doctors are forbidden from recommending or prescribing cannabis, forcing veterans to seek advice about their marijuana use in the private-sector. This bill lifts that prohibition.

Photo by Dean J. Koepfler/Tacoma News Tribune/MCT/Sipa USA

Veterans are increasingly turning to marijuana as an effective alternative to opioids, and this bill would allow VA patients to be open and honest about their cannabis use.

A survey released last year by the American Legion shows that more than 1 in 5 veterans self-reported using cannabis to alleviate a medical or physical ailment.

H.R. 2020: To provide for the rescheduling of marijuana into schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act

Ignoring for a moment the ridiculous length of the bill’s title, H.R. 2020, introduced by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), would do just as the name suggests, reclassify cannabis from its current schedule I to schedule III.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, schedule I drugs are reserved for those have a “high potential for abuse,” and have “no currently accepted medical use.”

Marijuana shares its current classification with heroin, LSD, and MDMA. Moving cannabis from schedule I to III would make it easier for scientists, including VA researchers, to investigate any of its medical benefits. Schedule III drugs include ketamine, anabolic steroids, and testosterone.

S. 1689: Marijuana Justice Act

Potential rival Democrat presidential candidates are joining forces on legislation to end the federal battle on cannabis. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) signed on as a co-sponsor of this bill introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), last year.

If passed, the proposed legislation would not only remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act so states could chart their own pot destinies, but would also withhold federal funding from states that maintain criminalization and continue to have racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates for the plant.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, another rumored 2020 contender, is also a co-sponsor.

Chuck Schumer is down with legal weed

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) plans to introduce legislation Friday that would decriminalize cannabis on the federal level, adding another high-profile advocate in the effort to reform the nation’s marijuana laws.

The legislation would remove weed from the list of scheduled substances that puts the plant on the same level as heroin. It would also establish funding for women-and-minority owned cannabis businesses, require additional research on its public health impact, and uphold federal authority to regulate advertising, similar to existing guidelines for alcohol and tobacco.

“If smoking marijuana doesn’t hurt anybody else, why shouldn’t we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?” Schumer told Vice News in an interview Thursday previewing his bill.

For Schumer, this is a huge shift. While he has supported medical cannabis and right of states to tryout legal sales of marijuana, what he’s announcing would dramatically change federal pot policy.

To really drive the point home, he agreed to sign a bong.