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Congressional Bill Would Let VA Doctors Recommend Marijuana To Veterans

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Doctors with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) would be able to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans under a new bill filed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and a bipartisan list of cosponsors.

The legislation is similar to bills that the congressman has continually introduced since the 113th Congress. The latest version has 12 initial cosponsors, while the previous interation ended the 115th Congress with 30 lawmakers signed on.

The proposal, which was introduced in the House late last week, stipulates that the VA must authorize health care providers to issue “recommendations and opinions to veterans who are residents of States with State marijuana programs regarding the participation of veterans in such State marijuana programs,” according to text of the bill.

“For too long, our veterans have been denied access to highly effective medical marijuana treatment for conditions like chronic pain and PTSD. Medical marijuana has shown proven benefits for treating these conditions and denying our veterans access to them is shameful,” Blumenauer said in a press release. “This simple bill would align veterans VA treatment with their very popular state laws, usually approved by the voters.”

There have been repeated congressional attempts to expand access to cannabis for veterans in recent years, and both the House and Senate have previously approved such provisions as amendments to large-scale spending legislation, but the idea has never been enacted into law.

Last year, the Senate voted 85-9 to advance an appropriations bill that included the cannabis recommendation rider. In the House, meanwhile, then-Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), the anti-cannabis chair of the House Rules Committee, blocked such an amendment from even receiving a vote.

In 2016, both the House and Senate passed language allowing VA providers to fill out medical cannabis recommendation forms, but neither proposal was included in the final legislation crafted by a bicameral conference committee to send to the president for signature that year.

With Democrats in control of the House this session, there’s hope among advocates that Blumenauer’s standalone legislation stands a solid chance of passing.

At the very least, if enough House members rally behind the bill and add their names as cosponsors, that could generate momentum for riders that are expected to be added to appropriations legislation in the spring to grant VA doctors the authority to recommend medical marijuana.

“This legislation would guarantee our veterans fair and equal treatment, along with the ability to consult with their own physician on all treatment options,” Blumenauer said of the new standalone bill. “It’s past time we provide them with the care they need and deserve.”

There’s been significant interest in addressing the veterans and marijuana issue this year. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) filed companion bills last month that would legalize medical cannabis for veterans and also ensure that VA doctors could issue marijuana recommendations.

Separately, a bipartisan group of lawmakers are pushing bills to require the VA to conduct clinical trials on the effects of medical cannabis on veterans.

Survey: Veterans Support Marijuana Legalization And Increasing Medical Cannabis Research

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Feds Award $3 Million In Grants To Study Marijuana Ingredients As Alternatives To Opioids

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The federal government has awarded $3 million in grants for research into the therapeutic benefits of ingredients in marijuana other than THC, emphasizing their potential as alternatives to prescription opioids.

In a notice published on Thursday, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explained why the studies were necessary and listed grant recipients and the subjects they will investigate. That includes research into the use of CBD for arthritis pain, which will be led by New York University School of Medicine.

“The treatment of chronic pain has relied heavily on opioids, despite their potential for addiction and overdose and the fact that they often don’t work well when used on a long-term basis,” Helene Langevin, director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), said in a press release. “There’s an urgent need for more effective and safer options.”

A total of nine grants were issued, with NIH stating that the funds will help identify alternative treatment options for pain and provide information about the impact of consuming cannabis compounds such as CBD and other lesser-known cannabinoids as well as terpenes found in the plant.

“The cannabis plant contains more than 110 cannabinoids and 120 terpenes, but the only compound that’s been studied extensively is THC,” the press release said.

But while THC is known to treat certain forms of pain, NIH is concerned that its intoxicating effects limit its medical applicability.

“THC may help relieve pain, but its value as an analgesic is limited by its psychoactive effects and abuse potential,” David Shurtleff, deputy director of NCCIH, said. “These new projects will investigate substances from cannabis that don’t have THC’s disadvantages, looking at their basic biological activity and their potential mechanisms of action as pain relievers.”

NIH first announced that it would be issuing grants for studies into minor cannabinoids and terpenes last year.

Federal health agencies aren’t the only institutions interested in learning about marijuana compounds other than THC. On Wednesday, a Senate committee issued a spending report that called for research into CBD and CBG while also criticizing the federal drug scheduling system for inhibiting such research.

Read descriptions of the federal cannabinoid and terpene research grant awards below:

Mechanism and Optimization of CBD-Mediated Analgesic Effects; Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston,; Zhigang He, Ph.D., B.M., and Juan Hong Wang, Ph.D. This project will investigate how the pain-relieving effects of cannabidiol (CBD) and other minor cannabinoids may be modulated by the activity of potassium-chloride cotransporter 2 (KCC2), a chloride extruder expressed in most neurons. (Grant 1R01AT010779)

Neuroimmune Mechanisms of Minor Cannabinoids in Inflammatory and Neuropathic Pain; University of California, San Francisco; Judith Hellman, M.D., and Mark A. Schumacher, M.D., Ph.D. This project will explore the effects of minor cannabinoids on inflammatory and neuropathic pain in vitro and in vivo, focusing on the interactions of the cannabinoids with the peripheral receptor called TRPV1 and a cannabinoid receptor, CB1R. (Grant 1R01AT010757)

Minor Cannabinoids and Terpenes: Preclinical Evaluation as Analgesics; Research Triangle Institute, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina; Jenny L. Wiley, Ph.D. This project will evaluate purified biosynthesized minor cannabinoids and selected terpenes alone and in planned combinations to determine their potential efficacy as pain relievers against acute thermal, inflammatory, neuropathic, and visceral pain. (Grant 1R01AT010773)

Identifying the Mechanisms of Action for CBD on Chronic Arthritis Pain; New York University School of Medicine, New York City; Yu-Shin Ding, Ph.D. This project will use neuroimaging studies and behavioral assessments to investigate the mechanisms of action of CBD in the modulation of chronic pain associated with osteoarthritis in a mouse model. (Grant 1R21AT010771)

Synthetic Biology for the Chemogenetic Manipulation of Pain Pathways; University of Texas, Austin; Andrew Ellington, Ph.D. This project will use a novel method to evolve individual variants of cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2) that interact with high affinity with minor cannabinoids and evaluate the new variants in a mouse model of pain. (Grant 1R21AT010777)

Exploring the Mechanisms Underlying the Analgesic Effect of Cannabidiol Using Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy; University of Utah, Salt Lake City; Deborah A. Yurgelun-Todd, Ph.D. This project will use proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) to evaluate changes in brain chemistry in critical pain-processing regions after short-term administration of a cannabis extract enriched in CBD. (Grant 1R21AT010736)

Mechanistic Studies of Analgesic Effects of Terpene Enriched Extracts from Hops; Emory University, Atlanta; Cassandra L. Quave, Ph.D. This project will take a multidisciplinary approach to investigate the analgesic effects of terpenes from Humulus lupulus (hops), a plant that is closely related to cannabis and has a very similar terpene profile. (Grant 1R21AT010774)

Systematic Investigation of Rare Cannabinoids With Pain Receptors; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; David Sarlah, Ph.D. This project involves synthesizing several classes of rare phytocannabinoids, systematically evaluating their anti-inflammatory potential, and examining the effects of the compounds with the strongest anti-inflammatory potential on the major receptors involved in pain sensation. (Grant 1R21AT010761)

Analgesic efficacy of single and combined minor cannabinoids and terpenes; Temple University, Philadelphia; Sara J. Ward, Ph.D. This project will use rodent models of pain to evaluate the effects of four biologically active components of cannabis that may act synergistically to protect against pain development and to assess the interactions of these four substances with morphine. (Grant 1R01AT010778)

Senate Report Slams Drug Scheduling System For Blocking Marijuana Research

 

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Politics

Beto O’Rourke Proposes Drug War Reparations Funded By Marijuana Taxes

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Marijuana would not only be legalized under a plan proposed on Thursday by Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, but cannabis tax revenue would be used to directly repay formerly incarcerated people through a new “Drug War Justice Grant” program.

Unlike other contenders who have come around to supporting marijuana legalization in just the past couple of years, the former Texas congressman has long called for ending prohibition—and his new plan in many respects goes further than those rolled out by other campaigns.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Politics

Support Grows For Marijuana Legalization Bill In Colombia

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Colombia’s legislature will soon take up a bill to legalize and regulate the production and consumption of marijuana for adults.

The legislation, which is being filed by Sen. Gustavo Bolivar of the opposition Colombia Humana party, seeks to end prohibition as a means of curtailing crime and supporting a public health-focused approach to drug policy.

Bolivar, an author who has written several books centered on drug trafficking, has characterized the bill as being about “regularization, not legalization,” but it would provide for legal sales to adults with restrictions similar to those imposed for tobacco and alcohol. There would be penalties for selling to underage individuals and smoking wouldn’t be permitted in public spaces.

The senator pointed to Uruguay, Canada and states in the U.S. as regulatory models for legalization.

“It has been proven that crime levels are lowered and public health is improved,” he said, according to Colombia Reports.

Sen. Alberto Castilla Salazar of the leftist Polo Democrático party said that his coalition supports the reform measure.

“Colombia must overcome prohibitionism and break the ties of illegal groups with the control of cannabis, so that it is the State that regulates, defines the forms and understands consumption as a public health problem,” he said on Tuesday.

Sen. Julián Gallo Cubillos of the FARC party said his coalition supports the legislation and that it represents “a new way to fight the scourge of drug trafficking.”

The proposal has also garnered the support of former President Juan Manuel Santos, who has been an outspoken advocate for ending the war on drugs. His Liberal party could make or break the legislation depending on where members fall.

While left and center-left lawmakers seem largely united around legalizing marijuana, the issue will likely face resistance from President Ivan Duque, who last year signed a decree banning low-level possession of cannabis and cocaine despite court rulings that such activity is permissible.

As Colombia Reports noted, however, Duque’s far-right Democratic Center party is in the minority.

“We’ll have to see how many senators are left to former president Juan Manuel Santos and see how public opinion receives the idea that marijuana can be consumed in public spaces,” Sen. Paloma Valencia, a member of the president’s party, said.

If the country does opt to pursue a regulated cannabis program, it will join Mexico, where lawmakers are readying legislation to legalize marijuana for adult use following a Supreme Court ruling establishing that a ban on possession and cultivation for personal use is unconstitutional.

Former White House Drug Czar Offers Marijuana Legalization Advice To Mexico

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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