House Republicans get early jump on marijuana bills for gun owners and veterans

Published on January 19, 2023
hand with pot leaf and hands holding revolver

Now that the dust has cleared on the drama surrounding the selection of Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the GOP-led House of Representatives is wasting no time in filing the 118th Congress’ first cannabis bills.

On Jan. 13, Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV) filed the Second Amendment Protection Act. The bill would seek to allow medical marijuana cardholders to legally purchase and possess firearms. Federal law currently prohibits them from doing so.

A few days later, on Jan. 18, Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) filed the Veterans Cannabis Use for Safe Healing Act. That bill would codify existing policy that permits military veterans to discuss marijuana with VA doctors, and ensure that veterans do not lose government benefits if they become medical marijuana patients.

Both bills have been filed before, by the same sponsors. Mooney’s bill only garnered two co-sponsors, while Steube had introduced his bill twice before, with no success.

“Both of them represent an improvement from the status quo. but I think Congress has the political capacity for—and the American public deserves—more substantive reforms,” Justin Strekal, a veteran cannabis advocate and lobbyist, who now runs the BOWL PAC, told Leafly.

“The two bills are incredibly narrow pieces of legislation that in prior Congresses did not receive much support from other GOP lawmakers,” he added. “Both of them are only focused on addressing medical state issues despite the fact that half of the American population now lives in adult use states.” 

Why do medical cannabis and gun ownership rights conflict so often?

Will these bills fare better in a GOP-run House?

Even though both bills failed to gain traction in previous terms, they may find more success in the new, GOP-run House of Representatives.

Don Murphy, a veteran cannabis lobbyist and four-time Republican Convention delegate who previously worked as a conservative liaison for the Marijuana Policy Project, sounded a note of optimism.

“I think these bills will fare better because now the Republican Party is in the majority,” he said. “When you’re in the majority, you’re expected to deliver. The expectations are higher when you hold the gavel.”

“Some of these tangential bills, the ones around the edges, will get done, will get hearings and will get votes. Whether they’ll pass in the Senate, I don’t know,” Murphy added.

Second Amendment bill would solve a persistent issue, but only for MMJ patients

Rep. Mooney’s bill, if enacted, would begin to untangle the legal knot that prevents Americans from possessing firearms and marijuana. 

The complication stems from the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, which prohibits an individual in possession of a controlled substance from possessing a firearm or ammunition.

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Anyone seeking to purchase a firearm must fill out a form that asks if they are an “unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.” Lying on that form can lead to felony charges.

“I think we’ve created millions of felons with this question. You can’t imagine that everybody in Colorado, who under Colorado state law is legally using marijuana, has never purchased a firearm,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a co-sponsor of an earlier version of Mooney’s bill, told Marijuana Moment back in 2019. “That would be completely illogical. Or vice versa.”

Mooney’s bill would only apply to medical patients, not adults who purchase cannabis in legal states. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, nearly 5.5 million Americans had registered as medical marijuana patients as of May 2021.

As of this writing, Mooney’s bill has picked up four co-sponsors, all Republicans: David Joyce (OH), Nancy Mace (NC), Massie and Brian Mast (FL).

Veterans bill has narrow scope, but is valuable nonetheless

Representative Steube’s bill—which he has introduced in different versions of in the past two Congresses—seeks to codify existing policy that permits VA doctors to discuss marijuana with patients. It furthermore ensures that veterans do not lose benefits if they become medical marijuana patients.

It does not permit VA doctors to prescribe marijuana to their patients, however.

“As a veteran, I’m committed to ensuring that veterans receive the care they deserve, and I know that sometimes that care can include medical marijuana,” Steube said in a statement.

Murphy thinks the bill could find traction in the Veteran Affairs Committee. “There are a fair number of good Republicans on Veteran Affairs who voted for SAFE banking in the past. If you’re voting for SAFE Banking, how do you not support veterans access? Veterans are the key for moving this forward for Republicans,” he told Leafly.

Are more cannabis bills on the way?

The 118th Congress has only just begun, and many more bills could be introduced, or re-introduced, from the last Congress.

Last session, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-NC) emerged as a vocal proponent of cannabis reform and introduced the States Reform Act, which would have decriminalized cannabis at the federal level. That bill, for one, could get revived. (According to Politico’s Natalie Fertig, Mace said recently that she aspires to be the “godmother” of cannabis.)

“You have leaders like Rep. Mace and Rep. Dave Joyce [R-OH] who both previously introduced bills to end marijuana prohibition by removing it from the CSA [Controlled Substances Act]. I have no doubt in my mind that both of them intend to do so again this Congress,” Strekal told Leafly. 

Meet Congress’ new Republican cannabis caucus

Rep. Mace also introduced a bill in the last days of the previous session to ease legal cannabis businesses’ tax burden; she could re-introduce it this session as well.

Lawmakers have additionally been schlepping around the SAFE Banking Act like Sissyphus’ rock for years now; they may take another crack at it this Congress.

Murphy believes that SAFE may find more success if it starts in the Senate, instead of the House, as it has in past sessions. “The House is the heavier lift now,” he said.

As for a timetable on these other bills, Strekal, for one, did not sound particularly optimistic. 

“It took them a whole week to elect a Speaker. I’m not expecting things that actually end up getting done, to get done incredibly quickly in the GOP House,” he told Leafly.

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Max Savage Levenson
Max Savage Levenson
Max Savage Levenson likely has the lowest cannabis tolerance of any writer on the cannabis beat. He also writes about music for Pitchfork, Bandcamp and other bespectacled folk. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. His dream interview is Tyler the Creator.
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