Department of Defense Sidestepping FDA on MMJ for Soldiers on the Ground

Congress has presented President Donald Trump with a bill that could provide an avenue for DoD to give active service members access to medical cannabis

A new defense bill could open the door for active duty soldiers to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. The National Defense Authorization Act (HR-2810) gives the Department of Defense, rather than the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the authority to approve drugs and medical devices.

The bill is designed “to reduce the number of deaths or the severity of harm to members of the armed forces… caused by a risk or agent of war.” It doesn’t specifically list medical marijuana, yet it could be used to allow military members serving outside the United States the freedom to use non-FDA-approved substances including cannabis. In other words, it would give the Pentagon the authority to distribute medical marijuana.

After being approved the U.S. House of Representatives on November 14, and then agreed to by the Senate on November 16, the measure was sent to President Donald Trump, who hasn’t given any indication as to whether he plans to sign the bill.

As of now, the FDA has the sole power to authorize medical drugs and devices. Federally, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance and therefore illegal, prohibiting Veterans Affairs (VA) from discussing and recommending medical cannabis.

Section 732 of HR-2810 would allow the Department of Defense to sidestep the FDA and marijuana’s Schedule I status to sign off on cannabis as a medical treatment to those serving the country overseas.

Lawmakers supporting the bill, including House armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), said the bill is long overdue and necessary, claiming the FDA isn’t acting swiftly enough to provide troops with the medical support they need.

“The chairman has perfect moral clarity on this provision, and there is no doubt in his mind that it is the right thing to do for the troops,” said House Armed Services spokesman Claude Chafin.

“This bill is the result of a lengthy, bipartisan process to ensure that United States military’s needs are properly met,” said Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Benefits of Medical Cannabis for Soldiers and Veterans

The American Legion, the largest wartime veterans service organization, has urged the U.S. government to reschedule cannabis and allow more research into its potential therapeutic application for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

For PTSD, studies so far indicate that cannabis can lessen the emotional impact of traumatic events while reducing anxiety and improving sleep. Cannabis, in particular the non-psychoactive cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD), has shown it can also help limit brain damage and improve recovery after a TBI.

More than 90 percent of veterans want more research into how and whether cannabis could be beneficial for addressing their health concerns, and 8 out of 10 are in favor of allowing doctors to recommend cannabis to veterans.

Learn More about Medical Marijuana

While still illegal under federal law, medical marijuana has been legalized by 29 U.S. states. Eight have taken the additional step to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.

You can learn more about medical marijuana, including laws regulating its use throughout the U.S. and research findings, through our education page.