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Lawmakers Push to Restore Medical Marijuana Language to VA Bill

In this photo taken Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, marijuana is measured in 3.5-gram amounts and placed in cans for packaging at the Pioneer Production and Processing marijuana growing facility in Arlington, Wash. Elaine Thompson/AP
In this photo taken Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, marijuana is measured in 3.5-gram amounts and placed in cans for packaging at the Pioneer Production and Processing marijuana growing facility in Arlington, Wash. Elaine Thompson/AP

Days after lawmakers killed legislation that would have cleared Veterans Affairs doctors to discuss and make recommendations about medical marijuana to their patients, supporters are taking another swing at the proposal.

A group of 11 lawmakers are asking the House and Senate leadership to restore the language to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill. The medical marijuana provision was dropped during a conference committee review of the legislation -- even though both the House and Senate backed the legislation.

"We feel the failure of the Conferees to include either provision is a drastic misfortune for veterans and is contrary to the will of both chambers as demonstrated by the strong bipartisan support for these provisions," the supporters wrote to congressional leaders on Tuesday.

No one on the conference committee -- made up of lawmakers from the Senate and House appropriations committees -- has taken credit for pulling the language from the bill.

Jennifer Hing, spokeswoman for the Senate Appropriations Committee, told Military.com only that the provision "was dropped as part of a bicameral negotiation in Conference Committee on the final legislation."

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon and one of the sponsors of the House version of the bill, slammed the move last week as outrageous.

"To add insult to injury, the legislation was released in the middle of the night, not even giving members of the House an opportunity to review the language before voting on it," he told the Stars & Stripes newspaper.

Blumenauer is among the writers of the letter to Republicans Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Others include Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana and Democrat Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon. All three lawmakers have sponsored legislation to free up VA doctors to talk with veteran patients about use of medical marijuana.

The correspondence was also sent to the Senate and House minority leaders Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and Nancy Pelosi of California.

An earlier effort to allow VA doctors to talk to veterans about medical marijuana in those states where it is legal also failed last year, whenSenate language was dropped by the House. Only a month ago, however, theHouse passed language similar to the Senate's reintroduced bill.

The legislation they have sought and the amendment they're now pushing to get inserted into the omnibus bill would not change current laws preventing the possession or dispensing of marijuana on VA medical centers and hospitals.

The Senate legislation passed in May said the VA would not be allowed to interfere with the ability of veterans to take part in a medical marijuana program approved by the state, deny services to veterans taking part in such a program, or prevent department doctors from making recommendations and assisting veterans in taking steps required to comply with the programs.

The House version would lift the same prohibitions by not allowing the VA to enforce the current directive that bars its doctors from recommending medical marijuana to patients and assisting them in taking part in state programs.

Other signatories to the letter, all Democrats, include Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Barbara Boxer of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Reps. Jared Polis of Colorado, Dina Titus of Nevada and Ruben Gallego of Arizona.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at Bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at@BryantJordan.

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