These Were The Biggest Federal And Congressional Marijuana Policy Developments Of 2023

Lawmakers Move To End Marijuana Testing For More Federal Job Applicants And Promote Psychedelics Access For Military Members

Certain federal employers could not test most job applicants for marijuana under a series of new amendments being proposed for large-scale spending bills. And other congressional lawmakers are pushing to promote access to psychedelics for military service members with certain mental health conditions and to expand waivers for Army recruits who test positive for cannabis.

As amendments to several pieces of appropriations legislation are posted by the House Rules Committee, one theme that’s developed concerns marijuana drug testing, with multiple bipartisan lawmakers aiming to loosen restrictions so that cannabis use does not jeopardize a person’s federal employment prospects or prevent them from serving in the military.

Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA) has been especially active on that front, recently filing amendments to enact the modest marijuana reform to spending measures covering the Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for example.

The amendments would prohibit the agencies from using their funds to carry out drug testing in for most federal positions in the majority of states. The Agriculture version was filed alongside Rep. Daniel Goldman (D-NY) and the others are cosponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

Garcia has also proposed a similar version of the amendment to a spending bill for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies (MilCon/VA). That one was not allowed to advance to the floor, though bipartisan lawmakers have cheered the House’s passage of the underlying legislation that included separate marijuana and psychedelics measures.

The other cannabis drug testing amendments are now awaiting action in the Rules Committee, which will determine whether they will be made in order for floor consideration.

While each version of Garcia’s proposed reforms share the same overall goal to change federal agencies’ drug testing policies for cannabis, there are certain differences in the text. For example, they use different names for federal drug laws and also deviate when it comes to the list of states that would be covered under the reform, with one excluding Ohio and Pennsylvania for reasons that aren’t clear.

The Rules Committee will also consider a newly filed measure from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) that would prohibit DOD from using its funds to test people for marijuana when they are enlisting in the military or being commissioned as an officer of one of the armed services.

Blumenauer and Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), meanwhile, submitted an amendment that its summary says is meant to “support and expand the Army’s recruitment initiative to waive the prohibition on enlistees disqualified for tetrahydrocannabinol.” But that is effectively a messaging measure, as the amendment itself proposes to increase and decrease an identical amount of funding for DOD.

Separately, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) filed an amendment to the DOD spending bill that would provide “funding for the Defense Health Agency to submit a report to Congress on options to ensure that active-duty service members who are suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are able to participate in clinical trials under the Department of Veterans Affairs for the purposes of studying the effectiveness of psychedelic substances,” according to a summary.

The text of Crenshaw’s amendment itself, like the Blumenauer-Sherill one, does not specifically mention drug policy and simply simultaneously increases and decreases funding in an unrelated part of the bill, a common tactic in appropriations legislation by members who want to send a message to federal agencies about key priorities without actually altering legislative text.

It’s unclear how the GOP-controlled committee will approach the amendments when the House returns from its recess next week. The panel has blocked numerous other bipartisan drug policy reform measures to other appropriations legislation this session, even though it did allow certain key marijuana and psychedelics proposals to advance.

Meanwhile, one of the House-passed MilCon/VA spending legislation amendments, which Gaetz cosponsored, would bar VA from enforcing a policy that prevents its doctors from issuing medical cannabis recommendations to veterans living in legal states. The Senate Appropriations Committee adopted a similar measure to its version of the spending bill, increasing the changes of the reform making it into the final package to be signed into law.


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These Were The Biggest Federal And Congressional Marijuana Policy Developments Of 2023
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report attached to the spending legislation by the House Appropriations Committee also includes a section noting that “VA has clarified that nothing in VA statutes or regulations specifically prohibits a veteran whose income is derived from state-legalized cannabis activities from obtaining a certificate of eligibility for VA home loan benefits.”

Over in the Senate, lawmakers passed defense legislation last month that contains provisions to bar intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA from denying security clearances to applicants solely due to their past marijuana use. But other cannabis proposals, such as one from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) to allowed medical marijuana use by veterans, did not advance as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

More than a dozen marijuana and psychedelics amendments to the House version of the NDAA were blocked by the Rules Committee in July. That includes a measure introduced by Garcia that would have prevented security clearance denials for federal workers over prior cannabis use.

House and Senate appropriators have also approved large-scale annual spending bills that once again include language to protect state medical cannabis programs, as well as a controversial rider to block Washington, D.C. from implementing a system of regulated marijuana sales.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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