Mr. Secretary, you've got marijuana all wrong

Matt Saintsing
January 16, 2018 - 2:49 pm

(Photo by Olivier Douliery)

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The VA says it won’t conduct research into the medical benefits of marijuana. However, veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, other service-related ailments, and veterans groups are adamant about its use as an alternative to deadly opioids.

In October, the Democratic members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee wrote to VA secretary David Shulkin, a medical doctor, imploring the agency to conduct research into cannabis.

Rep Tim Walz (Minn), the committee’s Ranking Member, and the nine other Democrats on the committee, referenced that in some of the states that have allowed medical marijuana programs, it is recommended to treat PTS, and other conditions that impact veterans.

Instead of asking the VA to start providing cannabis, they simply asked the secretary why the agency is not conducing any research into it.

Here's how Shulkin responded. As you can see, he has opted to pass the buck on a crucial issue that impacts the lives of countless war fighters, veterans, and their families, rather than engaging in a thoughtful evidence based debate on challenging policies.

What Walz, and his colleagues, are requesting of the VA is a far cry from Shulkin passing a doobie to someone who can’t sleep well. What they are asking for is that the VA’s Office of Research and Development to conduct empirical clinical research into whatever the hell happens when veterans consume cannabis.

This isn’t about legalization on the federal or state level, and it’s not even a debate about state’s rights. The question is can cannabis be used to treat some conditions arising in those returning from war?

Veterans are self-medicating on a daily basis and they overwhelmingly support the research. The VA owes our veterans the best, most rigorous science into how best to improve their lives, especially if they left a piece of themselves on the battlefield.

In Shulkin’s response, he claims that federal law restricts the VA from conducting research into marijuana. That is false. It is completely possible for the VA, and its clinics, to conduct the research and remain in line with federal laws.

Sure, there is a standard that must be adhered to in order to conduct the research. But, that puts the government between physicians and their patients who desperately need help. However grueling government bureaucracy can be, it doesn't preclude the VA from being scientists.

The bureaucratic process for marijuana research is surely cumbersome, but a far cry away from restricting the agency.

Furthermore, if it is true that the red-tape is so tedious that it’s preventing the research, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has a duty to try to change it. Instead of complaining about the bureaucracy (that we ALL hate), Dr. Shulkin should work within the confines of it to create a solution that puts veterans’ needs above that of the administrative state.

The fight is far from over. Today, Rep. Walz, along with four other Democrats on the committee, sent a letter back to Shulkin.

“I have heard the stories of veterans who have used cannabis medicinally to help them cope with physical and psychological injuries of war," said Rep. Walz in a statement emailed to Connecting Vets.

“Not only have I heard these stories, but I know Secretary Shulkin, who still practices medicine at VA, has heard them as well. That is why I found VA's response to my October 26 letter so disappointing and unacceptable.”

Walz, and the other members of Congress, are asking Secretary Shulkin to explain the specific barriers preventing the VA from the research. They are asking for an explanation by Feb. 1.

"Once again, I am proud to stand with the more than 90% of veterans who support VA research into medical cannabis, and I hope Secretary Shulkin, Attorney General Sessions, and President Trump will too," said Walz.