From Gateway Drug to VA Medicine

The Senate Appropriations Committee did something last week the Senate has never done; it passed a marijuana reform measure. It was the narrowest of proposals, an amendment co-authored by Sens. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., to a military spending bill that would prohibit the Department of Veterans Affairs from using federal money to prosecute doctors who recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states where the drug is legal.

Last year, the House passed five measures that supported states’ rights on marijuana. For its part, the Senate would not budge — until Thursday. Twelve Democrats and four Republicans supported the amendment. Most amazing of all was a “yes” vote from Sen. Dianne Feinstein. “We’ve always had Dianne Feinstein down as a ‘no’ vote,” policy maven Michael Collins of the anti-drug war Drug Policy Alliance told me. The California Democrat has been a staunch hawk in the war on drugs. She has described marijuana as a gateway drug. She would have been the only Democrat to vote “no.” But DiFi voted “yes,” although, Collins noted, her “‘yes’ was the most muffled yes I’ve ever heard in my life.”

A like-minded House amendment failed less than a month ago in a 213-210 vote, but if the Senate amendment passes, it could survive a joint conference committee. Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority observed, “Elected officials are finally starting to wake up to the fact that endorsing marijuana reform is good politics instead of the dangerous third rail they’ve long viewed it as, and that means a lot more victories are on the way soon.”