December 18, 2019

Warren, Gardner, Clark, and González-Colón Announce Bipartisan and Bicameral Bill to Protect Veterans Working in the State-Legal Cannabis Industry

Legislation would prohibit the Department of Veterans Affairs from denying veterans VA-backed home loans due to income earned from lawful cannabis business

Washington, D.C. - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Representative González-Colón (R-P.R.) announced the introduction of bipartisan and bicameral legislation that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from denying veterans VA-backed home loans based on their employment in their state's legal cannabis industry. Currently, cannabis is considered illegal under federal law, though 48 states -- including Massachusetts -- currently have laws permitting or decriminalizing marijuana or marijuana-based products. Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and a number of tribal nations have similar laws. As a result of federal law, the VA can deny home loans to veterans whose verified income is earned from working in their state's legal cannabis industry.

Eligible veterans are able to receive a home loan partially guaranteed by the VA. In states across the country, veterans are among the individuals working in the state's legal cannabis industry. In addition to ensuring that this work will not affect VA home loan guaranty program eligibility, the bill would clarify that the VA's activities related to guaranteeing such a loan would not be a violation of federal controlled substances laws, nor would mere application for a VA-backed home loan violate these laws.

"Veterans have sacrificed so much for this country, but our outdated federal marijuana laws prevent many veterans from getting the loans they need to buy homes," Senator Warren said. "Our bipartisan bill would ensure that veterans who work in their state's legal cannabis industry can access VA home loans and realize the dream of homeownership."

"The citizens of Colorado led the nation in adopting a new approach to cannabis, and our state's veterans have fought for our country all over the world. It's disgraceful that a veteran can be denied a benefit they earned serving our country because they have a job in a legitimate cannabis business," said Senator Gardner. "Unfortunately this isn't the only policy failure due to conflicting state and federal marijuana laws. This is another example in the long list of reasons to pass the STATES Act, which Senator Warren and I introduced to respect the will of the people and take the states' rights approach to legal cannabis."

"The VA needs to catch up with the times and recognize the growing role of the cannabis economy in our country," Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Clark said. "Our veterans shouldn't be penalized or denied the benefits they have earned because they live and work in a state where marijuana is legal. We owe it to them to ensure that they can build their lives and pursue their dreams after their service, and that includes the dream of homeownership."

"Achieving job security and having a stable home are two of the toughest challenges veterans face upon separating from the Armed Services. As Members of Congress, it is our duty to craft and modernize policies that can facilitate the acquisition of both. Through their service and sacrifices, our veterans have rightfully earned every benefit offered to them by the federal government," said Representative González-Colón. "That is why, putting their VA Home Loan at risk for embarking on the cannabis industry when done lawfully in accordance with local laws, is a mistake. I am proud to lead this bill, along with my colleagues, to continue removing obstacles for the success and wellbeing of veterans and their families."

The Drug Policy Alliance lends its support to this proposal.

"In any effort to roll back failed marijuana policy, lawmakers must focus on ending the collateral harms vulnerable people still encounter due to federal prohibition," says Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for Drug Policy Alliance. "As we work towards comprehensively ending the failed war on marijuana, we're thankful for the leadership of Senators Warren and Gardner as they take important steps to mitigate harms faced by veterans and noncitizens working within legal marijuana markets."

In addition to today's announcement, Senators Warren and Gardner announced another bipartisan bill that would prohibit U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from considering an individual's employment in the state-legal cannabis industry as a factor in his or her application for naturalization. Both bills were simultaneously announced as a package of legislative measures that would help improve the lives of individuals who work in the state-legal cannabis industry.

A supporter of federal legalization of marijuana, Senator Warren also reintroduced the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act) with Senator Gardner in April 2019. Both senators originally introduced the STATES Act in 2018. Senator Warren is a cosponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, and the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. She also led a series of letters in July 2015December 2015, and June 2016 to federal agencies requesting they reduce barriers to marijuana research, including by rescheduling marijuana.