Bill Authorizing Medicinal Cannabis Research at VA Gains Bipartisan Traction in House
As medicinal and recreational cannabis laws have swept across states, little progress has been made in Congress to reform longstanding laws prohibiting most cannabis research. Beyond the lack of legal clarity for average citizens prescribed cannabis by their doctors, veterans face even steeper hurdles to acquire a federally illicit medicine that studies have shown great potential for therapeutic benefits for pain management, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other chronic ailments.
Although these studies have shown promise, the Department of Veterans Affairs has not shared these findings, in part because they have yet to conduct independent studies to gauge cannabis-based treatments. Despite veterans and doctors urging VA-funded studies and acceptance for treatment, the VA maintains that they do not have the authority to pursue these studies.
New legislation in Congress would authorize VA cannabis research — and it is gaining traction in the House of Representatives.
H.R. 5520, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018 introduced by Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) and Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), ranking member on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, would specifically authorize the VA to conduct and support research on the efficacy and safety of cannabis for veterans enrolled in the VA health care system diagnosed with conditions such as chronic pain or PTSD.
While data is limited, the American Legion, a congressionally-chartered Veteran Service Organization, conducted a survey in October 2017 on a portion of its approximately 2.2 million veteran members and found that 92% of all respondents support medical research and 82% of all respondents support legalizing medicinal cannabis. The survey also found that “22% of veterans are currently using cannabis to treat a medical condition.”
As many veterans are already using cannabis for medicinal purposes without advisement from their doctor or care provider, it is important that clinicians are able to fully advise veterans on the impacts, harms, and benefits of cannabis use.
Rep. Correa, one of the authors for the bill said, “It is imperative to the health and safety of our veterans that we find alternative treatments for chronic pain and service-related injuries. Throughout my district, I meet veterans who depend on cannabis to manage their pain. Numerous veterans attest to the treatment benefits of medical cannabis. It’s time the VA did a formal study.”
And as the opioid crisis reaches epidemic proportions across the country, and especially for many veterans battling PTSD and chronic pain following overseas tours, cannabis has become popular for self-medication without doctor supervision.
Rep. Correa continued, “Rather than risk becoming dependent on opioids, these veterans find relief in medical cannabis. Opioid prescriptions for veterans have increased by 270 percent since 2003, resulting in 68,000 veterans developing an opioid addiction and a two-fold increase in accidental opioid overdose deaths. This is unacceptable.”
With 55 cosponsors, including 10 Republicans , this message found an audience on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. In May, the Veterans Affairs Committee passed the bill out of committee. And Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a conservative Republican from Virginia, has promised to bring the bill before his committee this year, according to Rolling Stone’s Matt Laslo.
H.R. 5520 still has some hurdles in its path, but with bipartisan support and members engaging in good faith dialogue on behalf of the health and safety of veterans, this bill could be the catalyst to break the longstanding logjam facing cannabis research at the federal level.
Cosponsors of H.R. 5520 include:
In The News
WASHINGTON — Planned Parenthood said Monday it will withdraw from the federal Title X program that helps low-income people access contraception rather than comply with what it calls a new Trump administration “gag rule” that prohibits it from providing abortion referrals to those patients. The announcement... Read More
DENVER — A car accident 17 years ago shattered Ashley Weber’s spine and left her confined to a wheelchair. After the accident, she said, she was prescribed strong opioids, developed an addiction to them and spent her days in a narcotic-induced mental fog. Over the past... Read More
HUNTINGDON, Tenn. — The sun is setting just as midwife Sheryl Shafer wraps up a long Thursday on the road visiting families in west Tennessee and Kentucky. She knows the patient on her last stop, a 21-year-old Amish woman in a two-story farmhouse without electricity, is... Read More
WASHINGTON - A majority of large employers believe the Medicare for all proposals being touted by some White House aspirants would lower the number of uninsured in the United States, but at a cost of higher taxes and a decline in the quality of health care,... Read More
The politics of health care are changing. And one of the most controversial parts of the Affordable Care Act — the so-called Cadillac tax — may be about to change with it. The Cadillac tax is a 40% tax on the most generous employer-provided health insurance... Read More
AKRON, Ohio — Just before the Fourth of July, Trenton Burrell began feeling run-down and achy. Soon he could barely muster the energy to walk from one room to another. A friend shared an alarming observation: “You’re turning yellow.” Within days, the 40-year-old landed in the... Read More