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:
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