US Senate Committee Approves MMJ Amendment for Veterans

Last week, on May 25, 2015, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee voted to approve an amendment that would allow VA doctors to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to veterans. The amendment, attached to the FY 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill, has strong bipartisan support and is seen as a must pass for Congress.

This is a historic moment for the legalization movement as it is the first time that the U.S. Senate has voted in favor of marijuana reform. In an equally historic moment, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who once characterized marijuana as a gateway drug, was one of the senators who voted in favor of the amendment.

For many this vote signals a small, yet significant, shift in U.S. marijuana policy.

“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,” said Tom Angell, a Marijuana Majority representative, to the SFGate.

Interestingly enough, the amendment was sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve Daines, whose state of Montana has had a troubled past with medical marijuana; and for the most part, the state’s lawmakers are not very fond of the policy.

It is not every day that you see a lawmaker submit legislation, no matter how small, that would seemingly go against the grain of the state legislature; it is refreshing to see Daines break rank with Helena.

Speaking with The Washington Post, Daines called the matter a First Amendment issue.  “They can’t discuss all the options available to them that they could discuss if they literally walked next door to a non-VA facility,” Daines said. “I don’t believe we should discriminate against veterans just because they are in the care of the VA.”

Now the bill that the Daines amendment is attached to will still have to go through several Congressional votes before it can become a law, but many expect that the bill, and the amendment, will pass intact.

If the bill does pass, it would help pave the way for the much broader CARERS act, a bill which would help protect medical marijuana businesses and allow the marijuana industry access to basic banking services. Currently the bill is held up in the Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Charles Grassley, an opponent of marijuana.

Unfortunately, for Grassley, the mounting political pressure to reform marijuana laws in the United States may be too great for him to suppress.

“The politics around marijuana have shifted in recent years, yet Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley hasn’t held a hearing on the issue,” stated Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “We will move the CARERS Act piece by piece if we have to but now is the time for the Senate to hold a hearing on the bill as a whole.”

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