US Senate Committee Finally Acknowledges It’s Worth Looking Into Medical Marijuana for Veterans

VictoriaArt /
VictoriaArt /

For decades, veterans have been pressing for marijuana as a way to heal without resorting to brain-altering pills and opioids. Many remembered what the herb did for them in Vietnam and wanted to have it at home. Now a US Senate committee approved a bipartisan bill on February 16th to promote marijuana research for them. This is the very first piece of cannabis legislature to get through the committee and to the chamber.

Titled “The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act” it was sponsored through a committee by Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK). Written to specifically target Veterans Affairs (VA) patients, and they want to see the therapeutic benefits it offers those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain. A House companion edition was filed by Reps. Lou Correa (D-CA) and Jack Bergman (R-MI).

Ever since California legalized medical marijuana in 1996 the VA has been trying to fight against doing something for veterans with it. Due to the Schedule I classification, they were unable to do anything for some time either. As more and more states legalize medical and recreational use, the VA has been under ever-increasing pressure to provide services for veterans who want to use it.

Back in 2021, a version cleared the House committee, but it was heavily objected to by VA officials. 2020 and 2018 also saw versions clear committee, but again fell short of getting into law. This latest legislation helps clear some of that red tape by requiring a retroactive observation from veterans who’s used marijuana for such uses in the past outside of the clinical trials.

However, the VA has a backdoor to avoid fulfilling their requirements as some observers noted.

In 90 days or less of the “observational study” on the effects of cannabis on PTSD and chronic pain, the VA would be required to issue a report to Congress about their ability to carry out the “clinical trials” that were the key to earlier editions of the legislation. “The Secretary may terminate the clinical trials…if the Secretary determines that the Department of Veterans Affairs is unable to meet clinical guideline requirements necessary to conduct such trials or the clinical trials would create excessive risk to participant,” according to the text of the bill.

Given this kind of out, the VA may seek to exploit it at the earliest opportunity. Previously the VA has claimed the research mandate went too far and had too many requirements. This new language allows the VA to do the observational study, then just make the arbitrary decision to not do the clinical trial with human subjects.

It also removed the previous requirement that testing occurs with a minimum of seven varieties of cannabis, and instead left it open to the researchers. Given the retroactive capabilities of the test, removing this could make the input of more veterans a part of the study, and ultimately remove some of the VA’s prior objections. Add in how difficult it can be to guarantee strain availability and growing conditions, and this kind of change is crucial to any successful test.

Late last year, over 20 veterans service organizations (VSOs) sent a letter to congressional leaders late last year and unsuccessfully urged them to the marijuana and veterans research bill before the end of congress. The large-scale defense spending bill at the end of last year omitted language that would allow VA providers to prescribe marijuana to those in legal states was removed before it was passed.

In January, Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) filed legislation to protect veterans from losing VA benefits for using medical marijuana in compliance with state laws. It would also allow VA doctors to legally discuss the pros and cons of medical marijuana use for their patients. Rep. Steube has also filed legislation to move marijuana from Schedule I to the less damaging Schedule III.

Our veterans are asking for help. For many of them, the pain and wounds of war can be too much to carry all the time. Medical marijuana can give them help without the addiction that psychoactive pills and opioids bring.  Let’s make their sacrifice a little easier and help them unwind with a toke & a smile.

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