In a positive move for US military veterans, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) approved bipartisan bills that would increase access to state-legal medical cannabis for veterans and expand research into the potential medical benefits of cannabis for conditions commonly diagnosed in veterans.
The first bill, HR 712, which is known as the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2019, would enable the Veterans Administration (VA) to conduct research on marijuana as it pertains to wide variety of ailments commonly associated with service-related issues, not the least of which is chronic pain and post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).
The first bill was introduced by Congressman Lou Correa (D-CA). A similar version of the bill also passed in HVAC but was not considered on the floor of the House.
The second bill, approved on March 12, 2020, is HR 1647, the Veterans Equal Access Act of 2019 that would allow VA doctors make medical marijuana recommendations in MMJ legal states.
The bill would also require the VA to conduct clinical trials researching the health outcomes of using medical cannabis to treat chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Currently, VA physicians and assistants are forbidden from providing even the necessary paperwork to complete MMJ recommendations, which has obliged veterans to seek them with private physicians and, in some cases, pay exorbitant fees.
HR 1647, originally introduced several years ago by Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, marks the first time the bill has been considered by HVAC.
“Our veterans put their lives on the line to defend our country, the absolute least we owe them is to ensure they are taken care of when they return to civilian life,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in an emailed statement to the Weed Blog.
“It is imperative that we approve legislation such as the Veterans Equal Access Act so that the countless vets suffering from post-traumatic stress and other debilitating disorders have access to the safe and effective option of medical marijuana treatment,” Altieri continued.
Both bills have been assigned to the HVAC, so now it is up to the House Majority to schedule floor time for the whole chamber to cast their votes.
Veterans’ cannabis use
In the United States, the veteran’ population consumes cannabis at rates far higher than the general population, with the majority reporting their use for medical purposes. According to polling conducted by the American Legion, 22% of veterans said they themselves “use cannabis to treat a mental or physical condition.”
“Today’s committee vote is an encouraging step forward for federal cannabis reform. Now that a majority of states have legalized cannabis for medical use, it is indefensible to restrict veterans’ ability to access medical cannabis through their VA providers while members of Congress can use their federally subsidized health insurance to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from their doctors. Federal law should not criminalize veterans for trying to find relief,” said Don Murphy, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project in a statement.