A bill to promote research into the therapeutic benefits of marijuana for military veterans will receive a hearing in Congress next week.
The House Veterans Affairs’ Subcommittee on Health will take up Rep. Lou Correa’s (D-CA) legislation, titled the VA Cannabis Research Act. It would mandate that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) launch a series of clinical trials on medical marijuana for PTSD and chronic pain.
While VA representatives have previously expressed opposition to earlier versions of this legislation—as well as other cannabis- and veterans-related bills—advocates are hopeful that the Biden administration will ultimately back the incremental reform this time around.
Correa said last week at a House Judiciary Committee meeting—where members approved a federal marijuana legalization bill—that he’d spoken earlier in the day with VA Secretary Denis McDonough “to discuss this specific issue of cannabis is a refers to veterans.”
“California was the first state in the union to legalize cannabis way back in 1996,” the congressman said. “So far we know cannabis is good for seizures, glaucoma, chronic pain, PTSD and god knows what are the [other] things it’s good for. But we won’t know until we do the medical research, and we cannot do medical research until cannabis is declassified at the federal level.”
Correa also separately proposed requiring the VA cannabis studies as an amendment to a defense spending bill that passed the House late last month. But he withdrew it prior to a House Rules Committee hearing.
What remains to be seen is where VA will come down on the measure during next week’s subcommittee meeting.
A Senate committee in June held a hearing on a bill to similarly require the department to conduct clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of marijuana for military veterans with PTSD and chronic pain—but a VA representative said that the Biden administration is opposed to the reform.
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Last year, the full House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved the VA Medical Cannabis Research Act, as well as a separate proposal to allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to their patients in states where it’s legal, but they did not advance to the floor.
During the last Congress, in 2019, the VA under President Donald Trump came out against a series of bills that were designed to protect benefits for veterans who use marijuana, allow the department’s doctors to recommend medical cannabis and expand research into the plant’s therapeutic potential.
In 2018, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee was the first congressional panel to approve a marijuana reform bill by passing an earlier version of legislation to encourage VA to conduct research on the medical benefits of cannabis.
Despite VA’s stated opposition to a variety of marijuana reform proposals in the past, an official with the department did say recently that it is “very closely” following research into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics like MDMA for military veterans.
Earlier this year, a bipartisan coalition of congressional lawmakers reintroduced bills that would federally legalize medical cannabis for military veterans.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) in January introduced a proposal aimed at ensuring that military veterans aren’t penalized for using medical cannabis in compliance with state law. It would also codify that VA doctors are allowed to discuss the risks and benefits of marijuana with their patients.
VA doctors are currently permitted to discuss cannabis with patients and document their usage in medical records, and those veteran patients are already shielded by agency policy from losing their benefits for marijuana use—but the bill would enshrine those policies into federal statute so they could not be administratively changed in the future.
A U.S. military veteran who was deported to Jamaica over a marijuana conviction was recently allowed to return to the country following a concerted push for relief by members of Congress.
Sens. Alex Padilla (D-CA), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Mark Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in July requesting that he reopen the case.
Thirty members of the Congressional Black Caucus separately urged the Biden administration to reopen certain deportation cases, including those involving cannabis such as Bailey’s.
Meanwhile, congressional leaders are working to end federal marijuana prohibition altogether.
Besides Nadler’s legalization bill that passed the House Judiciary Committee last week, Senate leaders are also finalizing reform legislation that they first previewed in July.