The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill last Thursday that includes an amendment allowing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to recommend medical cannabis for their patients in legal states. It will now move forward as part of the approved legislation that funds the VA for the 2024 Fiscal Year.
The amendment, which passed via a voice vote, was sponsored by Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon. It will lead to the same results desired in a standalone bill refiled in the House with bipartisan backing by Representative Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, and Florida Republican Representative Brian Mast, who lost both legs while serving in the Army in Afghanistan. Collectively they are the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.
The more recent measure that just passed in The Senate Appropriations Committee “simply says, in states that have a medical cannabis program, that a veteran’s doctor can talk to their veteran patient about the pros and cons of medical cannabis and fill out related paperwork should a veteran decide to participate in a state program where such paperwork is required,” Merkley said.
The amendment yields the same outcome as The Veterans Equal Access Act, which has not yet been implemented despite passing in committees and clearing floor approval multiple times with bipartisan (not to mention veteran) support.
In December of 2022, a coalition of more than 20 veterans service organizations (VSOs) wrote a letter to congressional leaders that just about had to beg lawmakers to pass a cannabis and veterans research bill before the end of the previous Congress session.
“For decades, many veterans have called for medicinal cannabis as an option for treating the unseen wounds of war and other injuries sustained through service,” the letter reads. “Veterans and caregivers have consistently communicated their anecdotal experiences regarding how cannabis offers effective treatment in tackling some of the most pressing health concerns they face upon returning from war.” Given what vets give for this country, and Americans now say that cannabis is safer than alcohol and cigarettes, it is more than a fair ask.
No such legislation passed in time. However, thanks to the approval of the latest spending bill, vets can now talk to their doctors about medical cannabis. Research continues to show the valuable role cannabis can play in treating PTSD, depression, anxiety, and many other conditions that, unfortunately, are all too familiar among vets.
Late last year, a study published in the journal Neuropharmacology by researchers from Wayne State University showed evidence that low doses of THC help treat adults with PTSD. While there is plenty of previous research on cannabis and trauma, this was the first to explore how THC affects corticolimbic brain activation.
Additionally, for those vets with injuries or chronic pain, cannabis offers a safer and harm-reduction path to treating such pain and allows many vets to opt out of opiates.
“We remain committed to the VA’s goal of conducting research into the efficacy of medicinal cannabis as a treatment for veterans with chronic pain, PTSD, and Traumatic Brain Injuries,” their letter continues. “However, as a Schedule I drug under the [Food and Drug Administration], research into the efficacy of cannabis has been stagnant, cumbersome, and convoluted with red tape. Federal research into cannabis faces many bureaucratic hurdles that hinder researchers.”
In related news, Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican from Iowa, filed different legislation in May that would promote research for treating conditions such as PTSD and chronic pain within the VA, and that’s just one of many bills currently making their way through Congress.
In April, bipartisan House representatives and Senators also refiled bills to legalize medical marijuana for military veterans. If made into law, it would allow veterans to legally possess and use cannabis on a federal level (but following state law) as recommended by their doctor.