Three medical cannabis bills were introduced to the health subcommittee of the Veterans Affairs, and they’re widely supported despite opposition from the VA itself.
The VA heard testimony on the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2019 (H.R. 712), Veterans Cannabis Use for Safe Healing Act (H.R. 2191) and the Veterans for Equal Access Act (H.R. 1647). The triad of bills, which serves to improve access to medical cannabis for veterans, garnered support from various organizations including: the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veterans.
However, the VA openly opposes the three bills and they mentioned that, as long as cannabis is federally illegal, the department cannot support any bill that would require the VA to promote its use. “[The House Veterans Affairs Committee] can make strong proposals for us to move forward with recommendations of filling out forms and such but, in the end, we need to go back to the [Drug Enforcement Agency] and [Justice Department] for their opinion,” said Larry Mole, chief consultant for population health at the VA.
Thankfully, veterans cannot lose their benefits if they are caught using cannabis products. But they are still at a loss because they can’t get information about how cannabis would work with their specific ailments. At the moment, VA health providers can face criminal charges if they even mention cannabis use, even just CBD.
One the bills, H.R. 1647, would allow VA doctors to recommend cannabis to patients who they feel could benefit from it, and it would allow them to fill the necessary paperwork to enroll the veteran in different state cannabis programs. It’s sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon – he has proposed this bill in every Congress since 2014.
“Opioids steal the lives of 115 Americans every day … as veterans with PTSD, chronic pain and any number of ailments are looking for relief, lethal opioid overdoses among VA patients are almost twice the national average. We are doing something wrong,” says Blumenauer.
H.R. 712 would offer incentives to the VA for conducting large-scale clinical trials on the effects of using medical cannabis and isolated cannabinoids on conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety, and PTSD. According to sponsor Rep. Lou Correa, D-California, “It’s time to do research. It’s time for veterans to know what cannabis is good for and what cannabis is not good for,” Correa said.
The third bill, H.R. 2192, would protect veterans from losing their benefits for participating in a state medical cannabis program, be it health care or financial compensation. However, as stated on the VA website, this is already being enforced: “Veterans will not be denied VA benefits because of marijuana use.”
According to the VA, rates of PTSD differ based on service area. For example, 11-20 percent of Iraq war veterans are diagnosed with PTSD, while an estimated 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have suffered from PTSD in their lifetimes. When it comes to pain, NIH statistics claim that 65.5 percent of veterans suffer from chronic pain of varying degrees.
Bill supporter and research director at the IAVA, Stephanie Mullen, says she supports cannabis research and easy access to it. “Veterans are suffering from their injuries today. It’s past time for VA to catch up.”
We couldn’t agree more.