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House Rejects Marijuana-for-Veterans Amendment — Barely

Blumenauer's amendment failed, narrowly. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In about as close a vote as you can get, the House rejected an amendment Thursday that would have allowed veterans to seek medical marijuana through the Veterans Affairs health system.  

The amendment, offered by Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer, was rejected 210-213. "While there is no single approach to aiding our nation’s veterans," Blumenauer wrote in a press release earlier this week, "medical marijuana is proven to help in treating post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries frequently suffered by veterans."  

Blumenauer noted that 36 states — in addition to D.C. and Guam — have passed laws providing legal access to medical marijuana in some form. “States are listening to their residents on the benefits of medical marijuana, including veterans, and are changing their laws," Blumenauer wrote. "It is unacceptable for our wounded warriors to be forced out of the VA system to simply seek a recommendation on whether or not medical marijuana is a good treatment option."  

Current law forbids veterans from getting a medical marijuana prescription through a VA doctor. But Blumenauer has been trying to change that. For one, he's offered this amendment before. Last year, the proposal fell short by 26 votes. For another, Blumenauer has offered a similar standalone bill that would make it easier for veterans to get medical marijuana where it's legal. He's also been pushing for a new Drug Enforcement Administration chief with a more open view of drug enforcement.  

In a joint letter with Jared Polis of Colorado, Blumenauer wrote to President Barack Obama asking him to appoint a DEA head who would end the agency's "resistance to the changing public consensus on marijuana use and stop expending its limited resources to prosecute individuals who are not a threat to public safety."  

"Instead," Blumenauer and Polis wrote in the letter, which was also signed by four other California Democrats, "focus on drug activity that poses a more serious risk."  

As for Republicans, 35 members of the House GOP voted for the Blumenauer amendment, which — written in the byzantine language of an appropriations amendment — would have prohibited federal funds for the use of implementing a ban on VA providers completing forms related to participation in a state marijuana program.  

Republicans like Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said veterans "deserve the right to have an open dialogue" with their doctors about marijuana. Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith told U.S. News and World Report  he voted against the amendment because it didn't go far enough, while California Democrat John Garamendi, one of eight Democrats to vote against the amendment, said he mistakenly voted against it.  

In short, the House is likely right at the tipping point for supporting a similar amendment next year, with more and more lawmakers embracing more liberal views on marijuana.  

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