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Lawmakers Want Research On Medical Marijuana For Veterans

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A bipartisan group of U.S. House members wants Congress to direct the Trump administration to set aside funding for research studies about the potential medical benefits of marijuana for military veterans.

“It is evident that medical research into the safety and efficacy of cannabis usage for medical purposes is timely, necessary, and supported by the veteran community,” 43 lawmakers wrote in a letter sent to top House appropriations officials this month. “It is also clear that there are gaps in veteran healthcare that could be filled by medicinal cannabis usage. However, while physicians nationwide and within VA can discuss cannabis usage with their patients, they have no federally approved research on which to base recommendations, clinical opinions, or prescriptions.”

The group, led by Congressman Lou Correa (D-CA) and Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN), wants new language included in a report attached to legislation funding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for Fiscal Year 2019 that would encourage officials “to promote scientific and medical research on the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis usage by veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and veterans diagnosed with chronic pain.”

VA Sec. David Shulkin has consistently maintained that his department is unable to participate in medical cannabis research because he believes that overarching federal marijuana prohibition laws prevent such studies. Advocates and scientists disagree, pointing out that no such legal block exists and that only internal VA policy, which Shulkin can change, stands in the way.

The lawmakers want the appropriations subcommittee that handles VA to insert the following in its report concerning VA funding:

“The Committee recognizes that continued focus on the discovery of treatment alternatives for veterans diagnosed with various conditions such as chronic pain and PTSD are essential to reducing the number of veteran suicides. For this reason, the Committee urges VA to utilize funds, in an amount deemed appropriate by the Secretary, to prioritize investments in research on the efficacy and safety of cannabis usage among the veteran population for medicinal purposes. The Committee also requests a report, within 180 days after the implementation of this Act, by the Secretary containing a detailed plan on how the Department of Veterans Affairs expects to pursue the above-mentioned research. The Committee also urges VA to ensure any research conducted or supported by VA on the above-mentioned topic is presented in a manner that will facilitate further research.”

In a press release, Correa said that medical cannabis can be a safer alternative to prescription medications for veterans suffering from war wounds.

β€œIt 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,” he said. “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.”

Advocates have also pushed Shulkin to rescind an internal VA policy that prohibits the department’s doctors from filling out medical cannabis recommendation forms in states where it is legal.

Medical Marijuana Ban A “Disgrace,” Congresswoman Tells Trump Veterans Chief

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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