Congressional lawmakers didn’t include marijuana provisions in a must-pass defense bill that was released on Tuesday, but a joint explanatory statement attached to the bill does contain a number of drug policy reform components, including a directive for the military to examine the potential of “plant-based therapies” like cannabis and certain psychedelics for service members.
The statement that accompanies the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) goes over the bill’s various provisions, detailing what is included in the legislation and which provisions that previously cleared either the House or Senate were excluded from the final bicameral deal. For advocates, the omission of much-anticipated cannabis banking language comes as a significant disappointment, though there are other potential vehicles for the reform during the lame duck session.
While two House-approved psychedelics research sections were omitted from the NDAA package, lawmakers still added language to the report instructing the secretary of defense to conduct a study looking at the “feasibility and advisability of conducting a study on the use of certain pharmacologic or potential plant-based therapies as alternatives to prescription opioids for the treatment of PTSD, TBI, or chronic pain.”
The briefing, which would be due on March 1, 2023, must contain an analysis of the following research topics:
“1. The types of therapies that could be included in the study
2. The quantitative and qualitative methodologies that could be used to assess the efficacy and effectiveness of such therapies
3. The proposed duration of a study
4. The estimated cost of a study
5. Whether the Department of Defense could monitor study participants while the participants are on terminal leave after such participants have transitioned from military service to veteran status.”
The directive doesn’t explicitly say that the study must involve marijuana or any specific psychedelics, but it immediately follows the description of related provisions to NDAA that were adopted in the House version—one from Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) and another from Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) that was expanded by an amendment from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
The former provision would have allowed the secretary of defense to approve grants for research into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics such as MDMA, psilocybin, ibogaine and 5–MeO–DMT for active duty military members with PTSD.
The latter would have directed a study into the therapeutic potential of marijuana as an opioid alternative to treat service members diagnosed with PTSD, TBI and severe pain and, with Ocasio-Cortez’s amendment, would have also included psilocybin and MDMA in the DOD-led review.
Meanwhile, the joint explanatory statement also features several other sections on House-passed drug policy proposals, including one that would have required “the Military Justice Review Panel to develop recommendations specifying appropriate sentencing ranges for offenses involving the use and possession of marijuana.”
Lawmakers said that they felt the issue has already been adequately addressed in the earlier 2022 NDAA, which “requires consideration of the severity of the offense and the guidelines or offense category that would apply if the offense were tried in a United States District Court.”
The House bill also included a provision that would have authorized doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend medical cannabis to veterans living in legal states. But as the joint statement points out, the Senate version “contained no similar provision” and the “agreement does not include this provision.”
“The House bill included a provision (sec. 5823) that would prohibit discrimination in Federal hiring against certain veterans on the basis of their having used cannabis,” another section of the statement says. “The Senate amendment contained no similar provision. The agreement does not include this provision.”
Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) also secured language in the House NDAA to “express a sense of Congress that the Department of Veterans Affairs should be prohibited from denying home loans for veterans who legally work in the marijuana industry.”
Even though that language is less prescriptive compared to Clark’s earlier amendment on the issue, which would have expressly prohibited such VA benefit denials under the circumstances, it still was not agreed to in this year’s final deal.
Another NDAA provisions left out of the final deal concerned anti-discrimination employment protections for cannabis consumers.
But while advocates would have liked to see all of these provisions included in the defense bill, there’s particular frustration that NDAA was ultimately not used as the vehicle to advance a package of marijuana banking and expungements legislation that’s known as “SAFE Plus.”
“The House bill contained provisions (secs. 5461-5475) that would allow state-legal cannabis businesses to access the banking system,” the statement says. “The Senate amendment contained no similar provision. The agreement does not include this provision.”
In other drug policy matters, the final NDAA excludes a House-passed provision to eliminate the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and another to prevent the controversial use of funds for aerial fumigation on drug crops in Colombia.
For that latter measure, which was adopted in the House as an amendment from Ocasio-Cortez, the joint statement says that while the language is not being included in the final bill, “any Department of Defense support for counterdrug activities in Colombia should be compliant with Colombia’s national and local laws and regulations.”
Another omitted measure from Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) would have required DOD to study the “historically discriminatory manner in which laws related to marijuana offenses have been enforced, the potential for the continued discriminatory application of the law (whether intentional or unintentional), and recommendations for actions that can be taken to minimize the risk of such discrimination.”
House lawmakers delayed consideration of NDAA in the House Rules Committee on Monday amid reported disagreements over unrelated provisions that deal with the repeal of the vaccine mandate for military service members and federal permitting reform. But they convened again to take it up on Tuesday after posting the bill.
The SAFE Banking Act sponsor, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), said at that meeting that following its lack of inclusion in the NDAA, he will be immediately getting to work to attach the reform to pending omnibus appropriations legislation—though he added that he’s lost sleep over recent setbacks and has “unrepeatable” things to say about the Senate over their inability to advance the bill.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.