House committee advances medical marijuana bills for veterans
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The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Thursday advanced two bills related to medical marijuana use for veterans.

The first measure, sponsored by Rep. Lou CorreaJose (Lou) Luis CorreaDozens of Democrats plan to vote remotely in a first for the House House Democrats push for virtual naturalization ceremonies in next coronavirus relief package Federal employees push for COVID-19 protections in 'dangerous' workplaces MORE (D-Calif.), would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to research the effects of medical-grade marijuana on the health outcomes of veterans with conditions like chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The committee adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Greg SteubeWilliam (Greg) Gregory SteubeHouse lawmakers introduce bill for local chambers of commerce to receive PPP funding Pelosi seeks to wrangle caucus behind next COVID-19 bill The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Pfizer's Mikael Dolsten says vaccine development timeline being cut in half; House poised to pass 4 billion relief package MORE (R-Fla.) that would prevent veterans’ health care facilities from denying benefits to patients who use medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

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Both the amendment and overall bill were adopted unanimously by voice vote.

The second measure, sponsored by Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerPass the Primary Care Enhancement Act Democrats introduce bill to include cannabis businesses in coronavirus relief Michelle Obama to promote absentee voting MORE (D-Ore.), would permit VA providers to offer recommendations to patients who are interested in participating in state marijuana programs.

That bill advanced on a 15-11 party-line vote. While the legislation is likely to pass the Democratic-controlled House if it gets a floor vote, the measure faces long odds in the GOP-controlled Senate.

VA providers currently cannot discuss medical marijuana as a form of treatment for veterans, even in states that allow for medical marijuana.

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia allow marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Don Murphy, director of federal policy at the Mairjuana Policy Project, an advocacy group focused on marijuana policy reform, said Thursday’s votes are a step in the right direction for veterans and the future of medical marijuana.

“Now that a majority of states have legalized cannabis for medical use, it is indefensible to restrict veterans’ ability to access medical cannabis through their VA providers while members of Congress can use their federally subsidized health insurance to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from their doctors,” Murphy said. “Federal law should not criminalize veterans for trying to find relief.”

The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars are among those who have expressed support for research into medical marijuana use for veterans.

Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana who was a senior drug policy adviser to former President Obama, warned against medical marijuana for veterans.

“Our veterans deserve the best healthcare they can get for the sacrifices they have made for our country. Unfortunately, many veterans are turning to the wild promises of high-potency products that may actually be exacerbating their struggles,” he said in a statement Thursday.

The House in September passed the Secure And Fair Enforcement Banking Act, which would allow banks and financial institutions to work with cannabis businesses, but the Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoHow lawmaker ties helped shape Fed chairman's COVID-19 response On The Money: House Democrats unveil trillion coronavirus relief package | SCOTUS divided in Trump financial records case | Fed under pressure to speed up, expand emergency loans Fed faces bipartisan pressure to speed up, expand emergency loans MORE (R-Idaho) has opposed it.

Alex Gangitano contributed.