Two Cannabis and Psychedelic Amendments Advance in Congress

Anyone familiar with how large-scale change is implemented in a democracy should know that most historic change doesn’t happen overnight. Whether that be the LGBTQ+ protections that have been enshrined in law or the civil rights movement, the many widespread changes and reforms that those movements brought weren’t created and signed into law overnight. The most monumental change in a democracy can happen incrementally over several years and through several different pieces of legislation that strengthen or expand upon the rights and/or language of the previous legislation.

On the topic of cannabis and psychedelic reform, measures related to those subjects have also been incremental. At the turn of the century, very few states had medical cannabis access and recreational cannabis legalization seemed fully impossible. A full dozen years passed before Colorado and Washington voted to legalize cannabis and another decade would pass before cannabis was recreationally legal in almost half of US states.

On the federal level of government, progress for legal reforms regarding cannabis and psychedelics are moving at the speed of government, that of course being the speed of snail after five weed gummies. Different pieces of federal legislation are sponsored and created by optimistic and usually progressive representatives before they effectively go nowhere legislatively and fizzle out in endless committee meetings as they’re drowned out by the many other pressing matters that the US is facing.

The 2018 Farm Bill rescheduled industrial hemp on the federal level and finally allowed for farmers to grow this ever-useful crop, however cannabis with a noticeable amount of THC was still a strictly prohibited Schedule I substance. Change on the federal level is far more arduous and usually takes far longer chronologically than collecting signatures for a state ballot initiative and that ballot passing in a November election. Luckily for cannabis and psychedelic reform advocates, Congress recently passed two incredibly important amendments to the Fiscal Year 2024 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill which could remedy some very dire issues that those organizations are having in relation to how they approach cannabis usage.

One of these amendments that have been included in this spending bill will hopefully provide a solution to one of the several potential problems that may arise for veterans and their relationship with their local VA providers. Due to cannabis’ federally illegal and outright disproven Schedule I status, VA staff members are prohibited from recommending cannabis to their patients and the veterans themselves were in jeopardy of having their VA benefits rescinded or strictly restricted if they were to admit to cannabis usage until recently. Given that there’s hundreds of examples across the American cannabis industry and advocacy community of veterans from all branches of the Armed Forces becoming strong business professionals and activists, this consequential issue is very problematic.

With this new amendment called the Safe Harbor Equal Access Amendment, VA doctors may now finally be able to issue medical cannabis recommendations without fear of reprisal or punishment. In states where cannabis has been legalized, veterans would be able to discuss cannabis usage with their doctors without any worry of negative action happening against them.

One of the Congressional caucuses that were most influential in getting this groundbreaking amendment included was the caucus that sponsored the measure, Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Formed in 2017 during Jeff Sessions’ short-lived reign as Attorney General where he did everything he could to dismantle legal cannabis short of resurrecting Harry Anslinger, the bipartisan caucus has become the premier Congressional caucus to support landmark pieces of federal reform. Consisting of two Congressional representatives from each party, the caucus members are currently Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Brian Mast (R-FL). Not  simply because they’re openly pro-cannabis Republicans in a party that isn’t as quick to support cannabis measures but also because they represent the two most important states to soon be voting for recreational cannabis, Congressmen Joyce and Mast’s inclusion in the caucus is absolutely paramount.

“As the son of a World War II veteran who was wounded on the battlefield, I’ve seen firsthand the many challenges our nation’s heroes face when they return home,” said Congressman Joyce in his floor remarks when discussing the amendment. “We should all be resolved to help expand access to treatments for the medical challenges – both mental and physical – our nation’s veterans experience. I’m proud to join my colleagues in leading this commonsense effort to help our country’s veterans access medical treatment.”

“This is a win for our bipartisan efforts to make it easier for veterans to access medical cannabis in state legal programs,” co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus said in a joint statement. “Our courageous veterans deserve the ability to use cannabis to treat PTSD, chronic illness and injury, or other injuries seen and unseen.”

Rep. Mast posted a meaningful statement on his own website. As an Army veteran who harrowingly lost both of his legs and an index finger due to an IED explosion in Kandahar, he speaks from personal experience about the importance and numerous possibilities of this legislation.

“Thankfully, Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle realize that this is bad policy,” he said. “The bipartisan support for this measure is a good step forward, but we’re far from the finish line. I’ll continue to push to make sure my brothers and sisters in arms have every tool possible to treat the wounds of war.”

The other crucial amendment that was included and passed in Congress was the measure included by Reps. Lou Correa (D-CA) and Jack Bergman (R-MI) who are the founding co-chairs of the Psychedelics Advancing Therapies (PATH) Caucus. Entitled the Correa-Bergman Amendment, this measure would authorize federal funding for government agencies such as the VA to complete “large-scale studies” into the possible medical usages of psychedelics including psilocybin mushrooms and MDMA.

“Today, the House took an important step towards fulfilling our promise to our nation’s veterans by passing our amendment pushing the VA to research the impact of breakthrough therapies, like psychedelics, on the invisible wounds of our country’s most valiant warriors in legislation to fund the federal government that also passed today,” Correa said in a statement on his website. “The VA must do all it can to ensure that these potentially life-saving therapies are accessible as soon as possible, and by pushing the Department to research these therapies with this amendment, we’re making meaningful progress.”



Aaron Pelley

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