The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs voted unanimously to advance the bill to the House floor.
House lawmakers have taken a significant step forward to facilitate research into the safety and effectiveness of cannabis for veterans. A bill that would authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to conduct cannabis research – the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018 (H.R. 5520) – earlier this month passed the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs with a unanimous vote, advancing the legislation to the House floor.
In addition to encouraging research, the bill aims to give the VA permission to allow veterans access to medical marijuana for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain – two conditions that so far appear to respond well to cannabis and affect veterans at a greater rate than the general population.
“While we know cannabis can have life-saving effects on veterans suffering from chronic pain or PTSD, there has been a severe lack of research studying the full effect of medicinal cannabis on these veterans,” said Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., one of the authors of of the bill and the ranking member of the House VA committee. “Simply put, there is no department or organization better suited to conduct this critically important research than VA, and there will never be a better time to act.”
Walz and other veterans’ advocates have been pushing VA officials to more aggressively explore the potential benefits of cannabis for veterans, but department leaders have insisted that federal law prohibits the agency from doing so. While medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and Washington, D.C., cannabis remains illegal under federal law. As such, VA doctors are unable to recommend cannabis for veterans, even in states where it is legal.
H.R. 5520 has support of the top Republican and Democrat on the VA committee and over 30 co-sponsors, including Rep. Lou Correa, D-Cailf.
“It’s time the VA did a formal study,” Correa said. “Rather than risk becoming dependent on opioids, these veterans find relief in medical cannabis. … I want to bring these brave men and women the relief they deserve. This legislation will finally allow the VA to perform research on medical cannabis.”
Co-author of the legislation and chair of the VA Committee, Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., believes supporting research into the potential of cannabis for PTSD and pain only makes sense in the effort to help soldiers returning from war to avoid the dangers of pharmaceutical opioids.
“As a physician, I am keenly aware of the need to look for opioid alternatives to treat patients’ chronic pain,” Roe said in a statement. “Since serving as Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I’ve heard from many veterans, both with physical and invisible wounds, who believe medical cannabis could benefit them. This is why I support the department researching cannabis just like any other drug to see if this alternative therapy would truly benefit patients. Until we have sound science behind whether or not medical cannabis is an effective treatment, we should not move forward with prescribing it, and I believe VA is uniquely equipped to conduct this important research.”
The legislation would require the VA to submit annual reports to Congress on research findings for five years.
Support from Veterans
The American Legion, the nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization, has publicly called for medical cannabis policy changes for veterans several times in the past, and last year adopted a resolution urging federal officials to expand legal access of medical cannabis to veterans.
Last year, a survey funded by the American Legion revealed that more than 9 of 10 military veterans want more research into the potential medical benefits of marijuana, and over 80 percent are in favor of allowing federal doctors to recommend cannabis.
Months ago, a change in language on the VA’s website suggested that the department could be open to investigating the efficacy of cannabis.
What Research Says
You can learn more about what studies have so far discovered about the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis by visiting our education page. Keep up with the latest cannabis research and industry news through our news page.