Two separate bipartisan groups of U.S. senators sent letters to members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet about expanding research on the medical benefits of marijuana on Thursday.
One letter, sent to Robert Wilkie, the head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), encouraged the department to begin large-scale, clinical trials on the potential medical benefits of cannabis for veterans suffering from conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or chronic pain.
The other, sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, called for an increase in the number of federally approved manufacturers producing marijuana for research purposes.
The letter to Wilkie—signed by Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK), as well as Reps. Phil Roe (R-TN) and Tim Walz (D-MN)—emphasized that the VA possesses the authority to conduct studies on marijuana’s health benefits and risks.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is already conducting multiple small-scale studies into the potential health benefits of medicinal cannabis, and we believe VA has the authority, ability and capacity to carry out such a study,” the lawmakers, who are the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate veterans affairs committees, wrote. “Many of our nation’s veterans already use medicinal cannabis, and they deserve to have full knowledge of the potential benefits and side effects of this alternative therapy.”
“We strongly encourage VA to take its cues from veterans, who, according to The American Legion’s survey of its membership, overwhelmingly support research into medicinal cannabis. We, and all of our nation’s veterans, look forward to your prompt response.”
Marijuana research and access for veterans is an increasingly bipartisan issue, with lawmakers making repeated calls for reform to allow the veteran community to use cannabis as an alternative treatment option.
In April, Walz and Roe introduced legislation that would encourage the VA to “conduct and support research relating to the efficacy and safety” of cannabis. The following month, the proposal became the first-ever standalone marijuana reform bill to be approved by a congressional committee.
Additionally, the VA has seen internal pressure to green-light medical marijuana research. But the department has been slow to meet this growing demand.
Earlier this year, the VA clarified its policy to note that it can, in fact, look into potential medical applications of cannabis for veterans suffering from various conditions—after repeatedly claiming that federal law prohibited such activity. Still, the VA continues to prohibit its doctors from recommending medical cannabis to veterans.
The other letter, to Sessions, focuses on the need to increase manufacturing of marijuana from federally approved sources.
Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) wrote to follow up on an earlier inquiry about the Department of Justice’s reluctance to approve additional cultivators of cannabis to be used in scientific research.
The senators cited a number of federal agencies and administration officials who’ve also expressed interest in expanding marijuana manufacturing in order to conduct further research.
“Marijuana’s impacts are being felt every day across the country—with or without research,” they wrote. “It is imperative that our nation’s brightest scientists have access to diverse types of federally-approved, research-grade marijuana to research both its adverse and therapeutic effects.”
The bipartisan duo sent a similar letter to Sessions in April, but he never wrote back.
“More than four months have elapsed, and it is troubling that we have not yet received a written response.”
Separately last month, a broader group of senators also wrote to the attorney general to request that his department stop blocking approvals of applications to grow research-grade cannabis.
“Such research is the critical foundation of sound policymaking that puts public health and safety first,” Hatch and Harris wrote in the new letter.