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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.

“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,” 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 founded 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.)

Politics

Hemp Legalization Is Officially Headed to President Trump’s Desk For Signature

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The 2018 Farm Bill, which would legalize industrial hemp, is officially headed to President Donald Trump’s desk. The House passed the legislation on Wednesday, one day after the Senate approved it.

It’s been decades since the ban on hemp was imposed—a byproduct of the federal government’s war on marijuana and other drugs. The ban, it seems, will be lifted in a matter of days.

The House passed the bill, 369-47.

The votes come after months of debate over other aspects of the wide-ranging agriculture bill. But the hemp legalization provision, shepherded by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has received bipartisan support at every step of the legislative process.

Hemp legalization made it through a conference committee where the Senate and House Agriculture Committees reconciled their respective versions of the bill. McConnell marked the occasion this week by signing the conference report with a hemp pen, which he said on Wednesday that the president was free to use to sign the bill into law.

The hemp provision would allow U.S. farmers to grow, process and sell the crop. The Justice Department would no longer have jurisdiction over hemp under the legislation; rather, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would lightly regulate it.

One element of the hemp language created tension between lawmakers and advocates. The original Senate-passed bill prohibited people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp industry, but a compromise was reached last week that limited that ban in the final version to 10 years after the last offense.

House Democrats in the Agriculture Committee listed hemp legalization as one of several reasons they were calling for a “yes” vote on the legislation.

According to VoteHemp, if the president signs the bill before the year’s end, it will take effect on January 1, 2019.

Mitch McConnell Says Trump Can Borrow His Hemp Pen To Sign Farm Bill Into Law

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Marijuana Industry Border Issues Would Be Solved Under New Congressional Bill

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Marijuana can really mess up border and immigration issues for people who partake in consumption or participate in the industry, but that would change if a new bill being introduced in Congress this week is enacted.

Under current U.S. laws, people who admit to past cannabis use or who work for or invest in marijuana businesses can be barred from visiting the country under certain circumstances. And marijuana consumption, even if it is legal under state law, can lead to an immigrant being deported.

The new legislation, the Maintaining Appropriate Protections For Legal Entry Act, would provide exceptions for conduct that “was lawful in the State, Indian Tribe, or foreign country in which the conduct occurred” or that was “subsequently made lawful under the law or regulation of such jurisdiction,” according to a draft obtained by Marijuana Moment.

The bill, known as the MAPLE Act for short—surely a nod to the leaf on Canada’s flag—is being filed on Wednesday by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

U.S. border policies on entry by marijuana industry participants were slightly loosened just ahead of the launch of Canada’s legal marijuana market in October to clarify that people working for cannabis businesses are generally admissible to the U.S., with the caveat that “if a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.”

And that’s a key exception. Several Canadians traveling to a cannabis industry conference in Las Vegas last month were detained for hours, with one investor being given a lifetime ban from visiting the U.S.

While there is almost certainly not enough time for Blumenauer’s proposal to be considered and voted on by the end of the year, its language could easily be adopted into new legislation after the 116th Congress is seated in January.

In October, the congressman laid out a plan for a step-by-step approach to federally legalizing marijuana in 2019 in a memo to fellow House Democrats.

Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can read the full text of the new MAPLE Act below:

This premium content is available only for Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon. Please start a monthly pledge to help us continue our cannabis advocacy journalism. (Please contact [email protected] if you are a patron and have trouble logging in.)

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

Chicago Mayor Wants Legal Marijuana Revenue To Fund Pensions

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Tax revenue from legal marijuana sales should be earmarked to fund pension programs, the mayor of Chicago said on Wednesday.

“Illinois legislators will be taking a serious look next year at legalizing recreational marijuana,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said in a speech to the City Council. “Should they follow that course, a portion of that revenue could go toward strengthening our pension funds and securing the retirement of the workers who depend on them.”

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.)

Photo courtesy of Daniel X. O’Neil.

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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