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Military Veterans Organizations Press Congress On Medical Marijuana Research

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U.S. military veterans from diverse backgrounds have been testifying before Congress in recent weeks about the need to expand Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) research into medical marijuana’s benefits.

At a series of joint House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearings, representatives of Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and other groups have discussed their legislative priorities for the 116th Congress—cannabis reform being one of them.

DAV included “Support VA research into the efficacy of cannabis for service-connected disabled veterans” as one of its asks in written testimony.

Vincent Lawrence, commander-in-chief of VFW, expanded on that position in his testimony to the committees.

He said that the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury among veterans “have been thrust into the forefront of the medical community and the general public in large part due to suicides and overmedication of veterans.” But it also demonstrates the need for the VA to study the potential benefits of medical cannabis, he said.

“For veterans who use medical cannabis and are also VA patients, they are doing this without the medical understanding or proper guidance from their coordinators of care at VA,” he wrote. “This is not to say VA providers are opting to ignore this medical treatment, but that there is currently a lack of federal research and understanding of how medical marijuana may or may not treat certain illnesses and injuries, and the way it interacts with other drugs.”

But Lawrence pointed out that preliminary research shows that “states that have legalized medical cannabis have also seen a 15-35 percent decrease in opioid overdose and abuse.”

“There is currently substantial evidence from a comprehensive study by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academic Press that concludes cannabinoids are effective for treating chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, sleep disturbances related to obstructive sleep apnea, multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms, and fibromyalgia –– all of which are prevalent in the veteran population,” he wrote.

Lawrence encouraged Congress to pass legislation that would “require VA to conduct a federally funded study with veteran participants for medical cannabis,” including veterans with PTSD, chronic pain and cancer.

A number of bills have already been filed in Congress this year that would achieve that goal. The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act specifically mandates that the VA conduct clinical trials on the effects of cannabis for conditions that commonly afflict veterans such as chronic pain and PTSD.

A prior version of that legislation became the first standalone marijuana bill ever to clear a congressional committee after the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved it last year, although it didn’t end up receiving a floor vote.

A separate version of similar legislation was subsequently filed by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), the ranking member on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. He said at a recent hearing that the VA is “where [cannabis] should be studied.”

Watch Roe discuss medical cannabis, about 1:33:34 into the video below:

“Let’s find out the risks, the benefits, the black box warnings and so on,” the congressman said. “I could not agree more with you there.”

Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) spoke about the opioid crisis and the need to pursue alternative treatment options to prescription painkillers.

In response, the VFW representative talked about the VA cannabis research bill and agreed that “alternate forms of pain management are going to be key.” That said, “we certainly don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we have veterans utilizing cannabis or other means that haven’t had an opportunity to go through the study and research process.”

Watch Lamb and VFW discuss medical cannabis, about 1:16:09 into the video below:

“At the end of the day, we have to know is this going to work, is it not going to work?” he said. “How is it going to affect veterans in their health or how is it not going to affect them? I think that’s the avenue we need to pursue aggressively.”

At another committee hearing, IAVA advocated for medical cannabis research for veterans. Citing a survey of its members, Jeremy Butler, the group’s CEO, said that 80 percent of veterans support the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes “yet our national policies are outdated, research is lacking and stigma persists.”

“The use of medical cannabis has been growing in support by the veteran population for quite some time. For years, IAVA members have sounded off in support of researching medical cannabis for the wounds of war and legalizing medical cannabis,” Butler added in written testimony. “Veterans consistently and passionately have communicated that cannabis offers effective help in tackling some of the most pressing injuries we face when returning from war.”

Watch IAVA discuss medical cannabis, about 43:12 into the video below:

Another group that voiced support for the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act was the Blinded Veterans Association, which included the bipartisan bill in a list of legislation that the group backs in written testimony.

Congressional Bill Would Let VA Doctors Recommend Marijuana To Veterans

Photo courtesy of YouTube.

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.

Politics

White House Drug Officials Say Legal Marijuana Is Up To States

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Two top federal drug officials, including the White House drug czar, recently said that marijuana legalization should be left up to states.

The comments stand out coming from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which has historically played a central role in defending blanket federal prohibition.

Jim Carroll, the Trump-appointed drug czar who directs the administration’s drug policies, told Fox 59 reporter Kayla Sullivan that he considers legalization a states’ right issue. He added that he’d like to see targeted education campaigns concerning cannabis use during pregnancy and underage usage as well as research into impaired driving.

It’s a particularly notable position given that federal law stipulates that the drug czar is required to “take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance” listed as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, including marijuana.

Even if Carroll’s remarks arguably don’t directly violate that statute, they are significant in that he doesn’t seem to have taken the opportunity to proactively oppose state legalization efforts when asked by a reporter.

Anne Hazlett, senior advisor at ONDCP, also weighed in on cannabis legalization on Wednesday, telling CentralIllinoisProud.com that marijuana legalization is “a state decision.”

“Marijuana is an ongoing challenge that is being addressed in many of our states,” she said. “This is a state decision, and we would like to see additional research done so that these decisions being made at a state level are being made in a manor that is fully informed.”

Though the comments from Carroll and Hazlett seem to reflect an evolving understanding of the federal government’s role in imposing prohibition on the states, the ONDCP director has previously made clear he’s not enthusiastic about the burgeoning legal market.

During a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing in May, Carroll raised concerns about THC potency in marijuana products, saying “the marijuana we have today is nothing like what it was when I was a kid, when I was in high school.”

“Back then the THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you high, was in the teens in terms of the percentage,” he said. “Now what we’re seeing is twice that, three times that, in the plant.”

He also said that more research is needed and that the Drug Enforcement Administration as well as the Department of Health and Human Services are “working hard to make sure that we understand the impact of legalization of marijuana on the body.”

Federally Funded Journal Exposes How Marijuana Prohibition Puts Consumers At Risk

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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New Industry-Backed Marijuana Legalization Measure Filed In Florida

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Another measure to legalize marijuana has been filed in Florida—and this one is being spearheaded by a major industry stakeholder, the multi-state dispensary chain MedMen.

Make It Legal Florida—a political committee that was registered earlier this month and is chaired by Nick Hansen, MedMen’s director of government affairs in the Southeastern U.S —filed the 2020 ballot initiative on August 6.

The campaign shared language of the measure, which isn’t yet available on the Florida Department of State elections division site, with Marijuana Moment.

“Make it Legal Florida is proud to present a ballot initiative that will legalize the safe, adult use of marijuana,” Hansen said via email. “Public opinion is on our side, and the time to act is now. Florida voters on every side of the aisle overwhelmingly support this initiative and at Make it Legal Florida, we are committed to ensuring Floridians have a chance to have their voices heard.”

The proposed constitutional amendment would legalize the possession, use, transportation and retail sale of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older. Medical marijuana dispensaries in the state would be permitted to sell marijuana to adults. The initiative doesn’t mention a licensing system to establish separate recreational shops, though the legislature will likely enact more detailed regulations consistent with the constitutional amendment’s text should it pass.

It also requires cannabis products to be “clearly labeled and in childproof packaging” and prohibits advertisements that are targeted at those under 21.

There’s also no mention of a home cultivation option, which is something that many advocates regard as a necessary civil liberties component but that some industry players have resisted or actively opposed.

A medical cannabis industry association based in New York faced backlash from advocates earlier this year after it was reported that it sent a document to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recommending that the state prevent consumers from growing their own marijuana at home. MedMen was among the companies listed as members of the association at the time, though a representative later told Marijuana Moment that the business supports giving adults the right to grow their own cannabis.

The new Florida language is “currently being reviewed by the Florida Division of Elections to ensure the petition is in the proper form and we are awaiting their approval, per the usual process,” a spokesperson told Marijuana Moment.

It’s not clear to what extent MedMen will be funding or running the campaign, but the cannabis company appears to be taking a more active role in legalization efforts this election cycle.

In Arizona, an adult-use legalization measure filed at the beginning of the month is also reportedly being backed by MedMen, as well as other existing medical cannabis companies in the state.

Make it Legal Florida will be competing against at least one other campaign that’s working to legalize cannabis in Florida. Sensible Florida, another advocacy group, announced last month that it had collected enough signatures to prompt a state Supreme Court review of the ballot language. It’s collected about 80,000 signatures so far.

To qualify for the ballot, the campaigns will have to gather a total of 766,200 valid signatures. If an effort clears that hurdle, passing a constitutional amendment requires 60 percent support from voters.

“Floridians are ready to legalize marijuana,” Ben Pollara, a political consultant who worked on 2014 and 2016 medical cannabis measures in the state, the latter of which was enacted, told Marijuana Moment. “If this measure makes it on the ballot in 2020, it is almost certain to pass.”

Personal injury attorney John Morgan, who bankrolled the state’s previous medical cannabis initiatives but only recently expressed interest in contributing to this recreational push, told The Miami Herald that Sensible Florida’s challenge will be raising millions of dollars to push their measure forward, whereas Hansen’s operation is well supported by the industry.

“Last time I did, I was the lone trombone player marching down the street,” he said of his role in medical marijuana legalization. “This will be the University of Miami marching band with trumpets and tubas and snare drums. I’ll just be one trombone player, marching with them.”

Read the full text of Make It Legal Florida’s marijuana proposal below: 

Florida marijuana legalizat… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative Takes First Step Toward 2020 Ballot

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Defense Department Official Stresses CBD Ban For Military Members

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A Department of Defense (DOD) official is reiterating that military service members are barred from using CBD products despite the legalization of hemp and its derivatives under the 2018 Farm Bill.

Patricia Deuster, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the federal government-run Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, said in a call with reporters this week that the non-intoxicating compound is “completely forbidden for use by any service member in any of the services at this point of time.”

While CBD products are widely available—in grocery stores, gas stations and online—the lack of regulations for these items from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) creates uncertainty about levels of THC in the preparations. And military members who test positive for THC can be punished with an other-than-honorable discharge and the potential loss of other benefits.

“It’s a real conundrum, and it’s going to be a major issue for the military because it is available [nearly everywhere],” Deuster said, according to Military.com, which first reported her remarks. “You go into any store, and you can find gummy bears with a supplement fact panel on it.”

Though the Tuesday press call simply provided clarity on existing military CBD policy, it represents the latest example of DOD interest in preventing the use of cannabis among service members.

The Navy released a notice earlier this month stipulating that “all hemp and CBD products are strictly prohibited for use by Sailors” no matter the legal status. And the Coast Guard said its members aren’t even allowed to visit marijuana shops or use online or delivery cannabis services, according to an order released last month.

That order didn’t specify policy around hemp-derived CBD, but a Coast Guard official told Mililtary.com that if members “have a desire to use a product that may or may not fall into the definition of what’s prohibited, they should seek guidance or use caution.”

Last year, the Air Force wrote in a post that “consumption [of marijuana] is not permitted in any fashion, period.” It emphasized the need to take caution as more states legalize, with one risk factor being your “friend’s grandma’s miracle sticky buns” that “might look mighty tasty and get rave reviews at the big shindig,” but could contain THC.

In a memo released in April, the Air Force said that “Airmen are advised against using CBD products” and could face disciplinary action if they use CBD that isn’t the FDA-approved drug Epidiolex.

The Army issued a similar notice in November 2016 that stated service members may not use marijuana, hemp or hemp oil.

Though not a military branch, NASA also sent a warning to its workforce this month that the unregulated nature of CBD products means employees could inadvertently consume THC that could get them fired.

“The problem is there is no regulatory framework to ensure that the CBD products being sold meet the Farm Act,” Deuster said on the call this week. “[CBD] is everywhere. We are waiting for the FDA to do something,”

She added that service members shouldn’t “believe what [the companies] are telling you” about the benefits of CBD.

Navy Bans Sailors From Using CBD Despite Federal Hemp Legalization, New Memo Says

Photo by Sam Doucette on Unsplash.

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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