VA medical cannabis legislation gains momentum and wide-spread support

Matt Saintsing
April 26, 2018 - 4:57 pm

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group/MCT/Sipa USA

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The Department of Veterans Affairs has long argued they lack the legal authority to research the medical benefits of marijuana, but legislation introduced earlier this month would force VA to find another excuse and further presses the agency to just do the research.

In the clearest sign yet that Congress may give VA the green-light to study cannabis, House Democrats hosted a roundtable of veterans organizations and medical research groups on Thursday, and the support was overwhelmingly in favor of H.R. 5520, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act.

A common thread of support among veterans groups are the possible medical benefits cannabis can have for vets with service related ailments, and thus, why they're throwing their weight behind the measure. 

The bill “will assist VA in understanding the strong benefits that THC and CBD can offer veteran patients with pain, anxiety, depression, PTSD and addiction, among other health burdens,” said AMVETS Executive Director Joe Chenelly.

Garry Augustine, the executive director for Disabled American Veterans (DAV), highlighted the research needed to discover any medical benefit. “Rigorous research must be conducted to determine the safety and efficacy of any treatment, including the use of medical marijuana for veterans,” he said.

The legislation calls on the VA to finally conduct research into how cannabis could be used to treat disabled veterans. Among them is the potential use of marijuana as a replacement to highly-addictive and deadly opioids, a drug class that has led to an alarming epidemic of overdoses.

When it comes to treating veterans, Stephanie Mullen, the research director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) added that no stone should be left unturned and “any treatment option that may mitigate these wounds of war should be fully explored.”

The VA’s resistance to research cannabis reflects an issue that plagues all scientific researchers, both government and private. Not only does U.S. federal law still list marijuana as illegal, the government mandates that only marijuana grown at a lab at the University of Mississippi be used for research.

Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), ranking member on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, introduced the legislation along with the committee’s Phil Roe (R-Tenn.). It has 39 co-sponsors, 32 Democrats and seven Republicans.

Roe, a doctor, said earlier this month, that he had spoken with veterans who believe the plant can help them with “both physical and invisible wounds,” a notion that is now mirrored in veterans organizations and medical research advocates alike.