Ahead of a key House committee meeting, bipartisan congressional lawmakers are promoting their amendment to a spending bill that would encourage research into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics.
The amendment from Reps. Lou Correa (D-CA) and Jack Bergman (R-MI) is being proposed as part of appropriations legislation covering Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies (MilCon/VA). The House Rules Committee is set to meet on Tuesday to determine whether it will be made in order for floor consideration.
“Our nation’s veterans continue to needlessly suffer tragic rates of suicide and opioid overdose deaths, and it’s crucial that the VA do all it can to ensure that those who would benefit most from these potentially lifesaving therapies can get access to them—as soon as possible,” Correa said in a press release on Monday. “Congress has the power to fix this, and with this amendment, we’ll push the VA to research the impact of breakthrough therapies, like psychedelics, that are already saving the lives of veterans in this country.”
The lawmakers’ amendment is meant to encourage VA to carry out “large-scale studies” into drugs like psilocybin and MDMA that have been designated as “breakthrough therapies” by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The sponsors are also the founding co-chairs of a congressional psychedelics caucus that promotes research into entheogenic substances.
The text of the Bergman-Correa legislation does not specifically mention psychedelics 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.
The summary of the proposal posted by the Rules Committee says it “increases and decreases the Medical and Prosthetic Research account at the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure the VA conducts large-scale studies into the efficacy of drugs that have FDA-designated Breakthrough Therapy status to treat post-traumatic stress disorder through VA-administered drug assisted therapy trials.”
“We are suffering from a mental health crisis in our Nation, and Veterans and servicemembers are right at the forefront of this crisis,” Bergamn said on Monday. “This amendment will help steer the federal government towards doing more and providing better options to help our Veterans overcome some of the hardest battles they will fight.”
Correa and Bergman have been actively promoting efforts to streamline studies to develop psychedelic-based therapies, recently touting new guidance for researchers interested in exploring the subject that was released by FDA, for example.
On Tuesday, the Rules Committee will also be taking up an amendment from Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA) to end the practice of drug testing job applicants at certain federal agencies for marijuana covered by the bill. He filed an identical amendment to the spending legislation for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies.
Two different groups of bipartisan congressional lawmakers are also hoping to use the MilCon/VA measure to advance amendments that would allow military veterans to receive medical cannabis recommendations from the VA doctors.
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Earlier this month, Garcia had also filed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have prevented security clearance denials for federal workers over prior cannabis use.
But that proposal, in addition to more than a dozen other drug policy reform amendments filed by bipartisan lawmakers, were ultimately blocked by the GOP-controlled House Rules Committee, which will also decide whether these new amendments can receive floor votes.
Meanwhile, Democratic senators are seeking to pass a series of marijuana reform amendments through its version of the NDAA.
One of the proposals, led by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), would allow veterans to use medical cannabis in states and territories where its legal, mirroring a standalone bill that the senator introduced in April.
It would additionally protect doctors who discuss and fill out paperwork to recommend medical marijuana for veterans. And it would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to support clinical trials investigating the therapeutic effects of cannabis in the treatment of conditions such as pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that commonly afflict veterans.
It’s currently unclear if Senate Democrats and Republicans will reach an agreement on inserting any of the amendments in the final bill—or if the GOP-controlled House would be willing to go along with them if they are ultimately attached on the Senate side.
Separately, the Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved an amendment to allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations and released a report for the relevant spending bill that calls on the department to facilitate medical marijuana access for veterans and explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
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.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.