A congressional committee has approved a large-scale defense bill that includes GOP-led provisions to create a medical marijuana “pilot program” and require a study into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for active duty military members under the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).
The House Armed Services Committee held a markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Wednesday, approving the legislation with drug policy reform amendments from Reps. Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Morgan Luttrell (R-TX), which were both adopted in a voice vote as par of an en bloc package.
Mace’s amendment calls for a DOD medical cannabis pilot program that would examine the health impacts of marijuana use by veterans and service members who are U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) beneficiaries. To be eligible for the program, the VA participant would need to have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression or anxiety, or have been prescribed pain management.
The secretaries of defense and VA would need to assess, compile and publish “relevant data collected by State-approved marijuana regulatory programs and made available to the Secretary of Defense.”
Our amendment 3504 – a medical #marijuana pilot program just PASSED @HASCRepublicans! @SecDef will implement a pilot program to address the health effects of #medicalmarijuana use by covered beneficiaries & explore new FDA-approved medicines.
— Rep. Nancy Mace (@RepNancyMace) June 22, 2023
“The pilot program shall be conducted in one or more States with a State-approved marijuana regulatory program, and shall be conducted in accordance with applicable State law with respect to the manufacture, distribution, dispensing, or possession of marijuana, to the extent such activity occurs as part of such pilot program,” the amendment says.
Officials would also need to partner on “preclinical research or a clinical investigation pursuant to an investigational new drug exemption” under the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).
The measure says that cannabis-related activity authorized under the pilot program would be exempt from enforcement action by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). VA benefits would also be explicitly protected for people participating in the program.
The defense secretary would need to submit annual reports to relevant congressional committees on the “conduct” of the program.
“The bipartisan passage of this amendment is a big win for the lives of active service members and veterans struggling with a variety of service-connected traumas,” Mace told Marijuana Moment on Thursday.
“We look forward to seeing the results of studies and the healing of our nation’s wounded heroes,” the congresswoman, who backs cannabis legalization and recently filed a bipartisan bill mandating the automatic sealing of criminal records for certain non-violent federal marijuana convictions, said.
The amendment from Luttrell, meanwhile, would require the defense secretary to carry out a clinical trial into the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics for active duty service members with PTSD, traumatic brain injury or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
The clinical trials would need to involve psilocybin, MDMA, ibogaine or DMT. The secretary would need to provide lawmakers with a report within one year of the enactment of the legislation with information about trial findings.
Last night at the #FY24NDAA markup three more of my amendments passed unanimously: funding increase for counter-narcotics support, study to improve military readiness through nutrition, and research on psychedelic therapies to treat PTSD.
— Congressman Morgan Luttrell (@RepLuttrell) June 22, 2023
Luttrell’s amendment is essentially a dialed-down version of a standalone bill he’s supporting from Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) that would create a grant program to fund two clinical trials into the medical value of that same group of psychedelics.
At a press briefing last week, Luttrell, a veteran himself, disclosed details of his own experience receiving ibogaine and 5-MeO-DMT treatment in another country, which he said “changed my life” and was “one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.”
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While two psychedelics-related provisions of the House’s version of the NDAA were omitted from the final deal last year, lawmakers did secure report language 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.”
A number of other marijuana items—including an attempt to pass cannabis banking reform through the must-pass defense bill—were also excluded, to the disappointment of advocates and stakeholders.
It’s unclear if these latest modest proposals will make it across the finish line this Congress, but their passage as part of an en bloc package signals that they were not viewed as controversial, even under GOP leadership of the House.
Read the text of the NDAA marijuana and psychedelics amendments below:
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.