The majority of the US Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday cast votes in favor of expanding medical cannabis access to United States veterans. The committee vote marks the first time that a majority of any body of the US Senate has ever decided in favor of increased cannabis access.
Committee members voted 18 to 12 in favor of The Veterans Equal Access Amendment, sponsored by Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. It was added in committee to a must-pass military construction and veterans affairs spending bill (the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act). The bill is “certain” to pass on the Senate floor, according to a Drug Policy Alliance press release.
Weeks ago, House members narrowly killed a similar amendment in the House version of the Appropriations Act by a floor vote of 210 to 213. Once the Senate version of the act is passed by the Senate floor, House and Senate leaders will need to reconcile the two versions.
The Daines/Merkley amendment permits physicians affiliated with the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend cannabis therapy to veterans in states that allow for its therapeutic use. Under current federal law, VA doctors are not permitted to fill out written documentation forms authorizing their patients to participate in state-sanctioned medical cannabis programs.
Stand-alone legislation (HR 667) to permit VA physicians to recommend cannabis therapy is pending in the US House of Representatives, Committee on Veterans Affairs: Health Subcommittee. A similar provision is also included in Senate Bill 683/HR 1538, The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act.
NORML coordinated its 2015 legislative ‘fly-in’ and lobby day in Washington, DC this past week, where many attendees visited with US Senators and urged them to vote for the Daines/Merkley amendment, among other pending reform legislation. Archived presentations from the conference are online here.
To learn and/or to contact your elected officials in regard to other pending marijuana law reform legislation, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.
“We endorsed Cory Booker during his election campaign in 2013 and we are honored to do so again,” stated NORML PAC manager Erik Altieri, “Senator Booker kept the promises he made to champion crucial criminal justice and marijuana reform issues in his first term. If re-elected for a full six year term this fall, he will be a strong crusader for rolling back our failed war on cannabis at the federal level. We encourage New Jersey voters to support him in his campaign.”
In an previous interview with Huffington Post, Booker laid out his view on marijuana policy and the drug war:
“Medical marijuana, heck yes. I do not understand that there are drugs that are more toxic, more dangerous and more challenging, in drugs stores around my state, yet we single out this one drug and we say you can’t even have it in a medical fashion, at a time when I see prescription drugs from Adderall to you name it being used widely across our nation…
The reason I said I want to go beyond that…is because of the drug war.
We have seen so much of our national treasure being spent in the national drug war and in my opinion have turned human life into incarceration, trapping into poverty…
What I’ve seen in Newark is a massive trap in this drug war, and its not just a trap for the individuals being arrested, it’s a trap for taxpayers, communities and towns. We’re not making our nation safer with this assault on this drug war, we are not making our state less addicted to substances. We need to change, radically change, the conversation and begin to talk about drugs, especially drugs like pot, in a different way.
This is a conversation that no matter what I do, Mayor, Governor, Senator, I want to be one of the people, hopefully, trying to lead the national conversation away from this insanity that we have now.”
During his first year in office, Sen. Booker joined forces with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul to introduce an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have prohibited the federal government from spending taxpayer money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. The measure ultimately did not come up for a vote, due to political maneuvering unrelated to the marijuana issue, but it marks the first time in recent history the issue was brought up in a positive way in the upper chamber of the US Congress. We fully expect, if re-elected, that Senator Booker will continue to be one of the most prominent and effective champions for federal reform in the Senate.
“Sen. Johnson has been an outspoken supporter of legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use during her tenure in the Oklahoma legislature,” stated NORML PAC Manager Erik Altieri. “Few state legislators have rivaled her passion and acumen on marijuana law reform and, if elected, Sen. Johnson would be an invaluable ally in the fight to legalize marijuana nationwide.”
“We encourage Oklahomans to support her campaign and send Sen. Johnson to Washington, D.C. to work toward ending our country’s failed prohibition on marijuana.”
“I’m incredibly thankful for NORML’s endorsement, ” said Sen. Johnson. “After years of stonewalling in the state legislature, I’m taking this fight to the people. It’s time for the people of Oklahoma to speak on this issue.”
Sen. Johnson began circulating a petition in early July to put marijuana legalization and commercialization on the Oklahoma November ballot.
“As taxpayers, we’re spending over $30 million each year policing, jailing, and incarcerating our citizens on marijuana-related offenses—often on simple possession. Yet, marijuana is almost universally available,” Sen. Johnson stated. “It’s time for a smarter approach, particularly in regards to how we spend our taxpayer dollars.”
“We have teacher shortages in Tulsa and Oklahoma City public schools, as well as in our smaller school districts. Why? Because Oklahoma pays teachers some of the lowest salaries in the nation. How many Oklahoma teachers does $30 million a year pay for?”
While serving in the state legislature, Sen. Johnson introduced measures to legalize marijuana for recreational and medical use and has been the outspoken champion of marijuana reform in the Sooner State.
The Oklahoma Democratic Primary will have a runoff election on August 26th. You can click here to check the status of your voter registration and to find your polling place.
Senate members are expected to vote imminently in regard to language that seeks to bar the US Justice Department from interfering in activities that are compliant with state medical cannabis laws.
Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) will introduce the bipartisan amendment, which will be similar to language approved by the US House of Representatives earlier this month. As with other legislation, the amendment must be approved by majorities in both legislative chambers before it is sent to the President for approval.
This will be the first time in recent memory that US Senators have ever decided on provisions specific to liberalizing America’s marijuana policies.
It is time that we allowed our unique federalist system to work the way it was intended. Patients and providers should be permitted to engage in state-sanctioned, medical cannabis-related activities free from the threat of federal interference or federal prosecution.
Please write or call your members of Senate today and tell them to stop using taxpayer dollars to target and prosecute state-authorized medical marijuana patients and providers. For your convenience, a pre-written letter will be e-mailed to your Senators when you visit here.
“Shenna Bellows has been at the forefront of the fight for marijuana legalization even before beginning this campaign,” stated NORML PAC Manager Erik Altieri, “During her tenure leading the Maine ACLU, Shenna has demonstrated she has the skill and determination to fight for sensible reforms and has proven to be a vocal and articulate leader in calling for the end of marijuana prohibition. We believe she will be invaluable in the United States Senate to help move the country away from our failed war on marijuana and towards a new, smarter approach.”
“We need to end the war on drugs and reform our criminal justice system, and we cannot afford to wait. The United States incarcerates more people in total and more people per capita than any other country in the world, and the racial disparities are alarming,” Shenna Bellows wrote in a recent op-ed, “Even in my home state of Maine, which is the whitest state in the union, blacks are 2.1 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. Government spends billions of dollars each year enforcing counterproductive drug laws, which are truly the New Jim Crow. The economic and human rights costs are enormous.”
While we have long had support for marijuana law reform in the House of Representative, support in the Senate has long been harder to come by. In a recent interview with ThinkProgress, Ms. Bellows has made clear she looks to kickstart the movement for rational marijuana policy in the upper chamber of Congress.
“Right now on the Senate side, there doesn’t seem to be a leader who has the courage to move that forward,” Bellows said. “I would be that leader.”
You can donate to the NORML PAC to help elect pro-reform candidates nationwide here.