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Pro-medical marijuana Republican votes against medical marijuana amendment

Marijuana buds at the “Oregon’s Finest” medical marijuana dispensary in Portland on April 8, 2014. (Steve Dipaola/Reuters)

A Republican congressman sponsored a bill to legalize medical marijuana, then two days later voted against an amendment to allow Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend the drug.

Classic case of politicians having it both ways?

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) told the Loop on Thursday morning that he knew it’d be a hard one to explain. The amendment, which was introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and defeated in a 195 to 222 vote, would have allowed VA doctors to talk to veteran patients about the benefits of marijuana, which is currently not allowed.

Griffith said the drug should be legal nationally first before clearing VA doctors to recommend it because it would be encouraging veterans to commit a federal felony.  “It was a tough vote for me, but the VA is just following the law. I disagree with the law, we need to change it,” he said.

Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, wasn’t satisfied. The amendment would free veterans in the 21 states and Washington, D.C., where medical marijuana is legal to consult with their VA doctors about using it to treat, among other things, their post-traumatic stress disorder.

“(Rep. Griffith) knows change happens incrementally, yes we want to legalize it, but we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Angell said.

The amendment received 22 Republican votes, while just 18 Democrats voted against it, including — to the surprise of marijuana advocates — Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

“Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz felt that it was premature to vote for such an amendment given that HHS has approved a new study to look at marijuana’s potential effects on PTSD,” Sean Bartlett, communications director, said. “While there is evidence that medical marijuana is effective in providing relief in some medical conditions, the Congresswoman looks forward to the results of that study before making a policy determination.”

Though he voted against the amendment, Griffith called the vote a “godsend” because it provided him a list of lawmakers to reach out to support his bill. Griffith’s legislation would legalize the drug for medicinal use and lower its controlled substance status.

“I was encouraged by the vote,” he said. “If we can change the federal law the amendment makes a lot of sense next year.”

Colby Itkowitz is the lead anchor of the Inspired Life blog. She previously covered the quirks of national politics and the federal government.

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