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Top Trump Veterans Officials Pushed Marijuana Study, Emails Show

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High-ranking Trump administration officials discussed pressing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to study the benefits of medical marijuana for military veterans, newly released email correspondence reveals.

The messages also show that they worried about potential pushback from the Department of Justice.

Under the subject line, “Big Bold Ideas,” Jake Leinenkugel, the senior White House advisor for VA issues, wrote that “thousands of Veterans claim their legal/illegal use of cannabis has made dramatic changes in their well-being.”

“Many claiming it saved their lives and got them off all opioids and most of their prescribed drugs issued by VA.”

“Ask WH & Congress for permission to propose legislation to study effects of cannabis on 100% disabled volunteer PTSD Veterans,” Leinenkugel wrote, referring to the White House. “Bold action in deference to [Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s] opinion of medical marijuana.”

“Right Thing to Do,” he added parenthetically, noting that the move is supported by veterans advocacy organizations like the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans.

The message, sent on June 15, 2017, is part of a trove of emails released to journalist Jasper Craven under a Freedom of Information Act request last month.

“Good ideas here,” Scott R. Blackburn, who at the time was serving as an interim deputy secretary at VA and later became interim CIO and executive in charge for the department’s Office of Information & Technology, wrote two days later. “See comments in red below.”

“I would think we would be all for this. You would know better than I would, but I would think the resistance might come from the DOJ/administration. I agree with you that it is the right thing to do.”

It is unclear from the emails whether the discussion went further than that, and to what level.

Under current law, the VA is already able to research cannabis and even to allow its doctors to issue recommendations for medical marijuana in accordance with state laws. However, department leadership—including then-Sec. David Shulkin—has been reluctant to move on the issue and has instituted internal bans on filling out forms to let veterans participate in state medical cannabis programs.

VA officials have also blocked efforts to recruit veteran participants in studies on marijuana’s potential medical benefits.

Meanwhile, a bill focused on encouraging VA to study medical cannabis became the first-ever standalone marijuana reform legislation to be approved by a congressional committee in May.

First Marijuana Reform Bill Clears Congressional Committee

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-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.

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