Senate Republicans on Wednesday defeated a bill calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to research marijuana as a remedy for post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.
Senators voted 57 to 42 to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill, falling short of the 60 votes necessary for it to advance.
Eight Republicans — Sens. Bill Cassidy (La.), Susan Collins (Maine), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mike Rounds (S.D.), Eric Schmitt (Mo.) and Dan Sullivan (Alaska) — voted alongside every Democrat to advance the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) switched his vote from “aye” to “nay” in order to have the ability to bring the legislation to the floor again in the future. He lamented that the bill was not able to move forward despite the support of numerous veterans groups and marijuana advocates.
“It’s regrettable that this bill, which so much helps our veterans, went down,” Schumer said. “I hope that some of our members on the other side of the aisle who didn’t vote for it will reconsider.”
Some Senate Republicans indicated that their main concern with the proposal was indeed the marijuana-related provisions and argued it was unnecessary.
“When the conversation about how to serve our veterans after all they sacrificed is to give them marijuana — we have failed our veterans,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) tweeted earlier on Wednesday.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sullivan are the leading sponsors of the proposal, which was voted out of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in February.
“In Montana, we respect and fight for the men and women who have defended our country and freedoms,” Tester said in a statement. “Today’s failed vote tells them that their government doesn’t value their sacrifices. By blocking consideration of a bill that passed unanimously out of Committee two months ago, a group of Republicans today prioritized partisan politics over providing our nation’s veterans their hard-earned benefits and care.”
The blueprint pushes the VA to move ahead on a “large scale” study and a potential clinical trial to determine whether marijuana should be used to treat veterans.
Tester, the committee chairman, had acknowledged on the floor ahead of the vote that the legislation was deemed “controversial” among some Republican senators. But he said it was important to have “a better understanding of the role” medical cannabis could have for veterans.
“Today, it’s time to put political differences aside and do what’s right for our veterans,” he said.
Use of cannabis has increased across the country, with 20 states having legalized it for recreational use. However, it remains illegal federally, meaning the VA cannot recommend its use to veterans in any way.
According to Tester and Sullivan’s proposal, the VA’s observational study would look into the positives and negatives of veterans using marijuana and their overall health as a result. The senators also noted that it would also look into improvements to mood and social functioning, changes to overall quality of life and impacts on other substance use, including alcohol and opioids.
—Updated at 5:45 p.m.