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The House Armed Services Committee just added two amendments to an annual defense budget bill that would force the US military to rethink some of its antiquated cannabis prohibition policies.
One of these amendments, proposed by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), would require the Department of Defense (DOD) to conduct a research study exploring medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids. This research would focus on off-duty soldiers suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, or chronic pain who are currently taking opioid medications. To conduct the study, researchers would allow some of these patients to use medical pot, while others would stick with traditional painkillers.
Over the course of the study, researchers would monitor the health of all participants and assess the effectiveness of the treatment. The DOD would be required to submit a full report to Congress one year after the study's completion, followed by a second report two years later. The amendment would also require military officials to create an education campaign focusing on the use of medical pot as an opioid alternative.
The DOD currently prohibits US military servicemembers and veterans from using any form of cannabis, even for medicinal use. This ban even includes federally-legal, non-psychoactive CBD products, and some branches have gone so far as to ban servicemembers from using hemp shampoo or lip balm. Moulton's amendment would not immediately change these policies, but would at least force the feds to officially acknowledge the clinically-proven effectiveness of medical cannabis.
The committee also approved another amendment that would require the DOD to reconsider the harsh penalties that it imposes on servicemembers who use cannabis. Under current regulations, soldiers who are caught possessing or smoking weed while on active duty can be locked behind bars for up to 5 years. In contrast, a soldier who is blackout drunk on the job can only be sentenced to a maximum of 9 months of confinement.
The new amendment, proposed by Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD), would force the Military Justice Review Panel to submit a report to Congress comparing the punishments for cannabis-related offenses to those issued for alcohol and other comparable offenses. The report would also need to account for the “overall burden on the military justice system on the current approach of the Department of Defense to sentencing marijuana-based offenses.” Brown initially proposed this amendment as a freestanding bill back in April, but it may have a better chance of passing as part of the larger defense bill.
“As states around the country and the House take steps to reform our approach to cannabis, we need to ensure the military justice system reflects those changes,” Brown said in a statement. “Today, cannabis-related offices are treated harshly in comparison with other comparable offenses. My amendment doesn’t change current law, but what it does do is require our armed services to review and provide recommendations for potential reform. This is an important step in our efforts to ensure our military justice system is providing fair treatment to every servicemember.”
Both of these amendments have been added to the National Defense Authorization Act, a must-pass annual budget bill that will fund the entire US military for the next fiscal year. The bill must still advance through both chambers of Congress, though, so conservative lawmakers may have a chance to reverse these changes.