A pair of Republican lawmakers on Friday introduced a congressional bill meant to promote research into the medical potential of marijuana for military veterans.
This is the latest piece of legislation focused on cannabis and veterans that’s been filed this Congress. It comes one day after a bipartisan Senate bill was introduced—and on the same day that House members filed companion legislation—to require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct clinical trials into marijuana for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain in the population.
Similarly, the new proposal from Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) and Nancy Mace (R-SC) would give VA a research mandate. The Veterans Cannabis Analysis, Research, and Effectiveness (CARE) Act states that the department “shall conduct and support research relating to the efficacy and safety of forms of cannabis” for chronic pain, PTSD and “other conditions the Secretary determines appropriate.”
We need to give veterans and their doctors more access to effective treatments, not fewer. #IA02
— Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, M.D. (@RepMMM) April 30, 2021
“For too long, veterans with mental or physical ailments have either gone untreated or have been prescribed addictive prescription medication that have caused their health to further deteriorate,” Miller-Meeks said in a press release. “We need to give veterans and their doctors more access to effective treatments, not fewer.”
The legislation specifies that the studies must involve plants and extracts, at least three varieties of cannabis with different concentrations of THC and CBD and “varying methods of cannabis delivery, including topical application, combustable and non-combustable inhalation, and ingestion.”
VA would first have to submit a research plan to House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees and make any requests to support the studies. Over the course of five years after the bill is enacted, VA must send annual reports on its progress to the panels.
Too many of our veterans quietly suffer from the burden of the terrifying experiences they've endured. An average of 17 vets die of PTSD-related suicide daily.
— Rep. Nancy Mace (@RepNancyMace) April 30, 2021
“Many of our veterans face an invisible, life-long struggle to come to terms with horrifying experiences they endured while protecting the rest of us. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can impact every aspect of one’s life, and sadly the current treatments can lead to even greater problems for veterans,” Mace said. “Medical cannabis offers another valuable tool for doctors working to help our vets overcome PTSD. To ignore this potential would be a disservice to veterans and their sacrifices for our nation.”
The other veterans-focused marijuana legislation that was introduced in the Senate on Thursday—the VA Medical Cannabis Research Act—explicitly mandates that VA launch a series of clinical trials on medical marijuana for PTSD and chronic pain.
When it comes to the chronic pain trials, the agency would have to look at the impact of marijuana consumption on osteopathic pain, opioid use and dosage, benzodiazepine use and dosage, alcohol use, inflammation, sleep quality, agitation and quality of life.
For the PTSD-specific studies, VA would examine the extent to which cannabis affects basic symptoms of the condition, the use and dosage of benzodiazepines, alcohol use, mood, anxiety, social functioning, agitation, suicidal ideation and sleep quality.
A separate House companion to that Senate bill was also filed on Friday by Reps. Lou Correa (D-CA) and Peter Meijer (R-MI).
Today we introduced the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act.
With the opioid crisis raging it’s crucial we find alternative treatments for PTSD & service-related injuries. We must help our veterans.
— Rep. Lou Correa (@RepLouCorrea) April 30, 2021
Last year, the 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.
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Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of congressional lawmakers reintroduced bills that would federally legalize medical cannabis for military veterans.
That bill is being sponsored by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Dave Joyce (R-OH), both co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, in the House, along with nine other original cosponsors. On the Senate side, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) is leading the proposal, and he’s joined by five other lawmakers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would temporarily allow veterans to legally possess and use cannabis under federal law, as recommended by doctors in accordance with state law. Physicians with VA would also be allowed for the first time to issue such recommendations. Further, it would require VA to study the therapeutic potential of marijuana for pain and reducing opioid misuse.
The House and Senate have both previously approved annual spending bills containing riders blocking VA from punishing doctors for writing medical marijuana recommendations, but no such legislation has yet been enacted into law.
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.
Meanwhile, congressional leaders are working to end federal marijuana prohibition altogether.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are in the process of crafting a comprehensive legalization bill, and Schumer said it would be placed on the floor “soon.”
On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.
Read the new marijuana research bill for veterans below: