Although the cannabis plant remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government, there is a new defense bill on the table calling for soldiers on active duty to be allowed the use of experimental medications, including medical marijuana, while in the trenches of battle. Yes, you read that right: Soldiers might soon be allowed to use medical marijuana in combat.
According to a report from Politico, the measure (HR 2810) would give the secretary of defense the power to grant military service members working outside the United States the freedom to use drugs that have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The goal of the bill is “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,” reads a conference report.
The problem is Congress, and the many agencies that make up the beast we know as Uncle Sam, cannot seem to agree on the most appropriate path to take on this matter.
For now, there is a lot of pressure on Capitol Hill not to break policy—keeping the determination of what constitutes “safe and effective” medicine solely in the hands of the FDA.
But part of the law allows the FDA to give the Pentagon permission to use experimental medications in the event of a nuclear attack and other chemical threats. Therefore, the Department of Defense is essentially asking for Congress to extend the existing permissions by giving the military absolute say in declaring “emergency uses for medical products to reduce deaths and severity of injuries caused by agents of war.”
The Pentagon is convinced that providing sick or injured service members with access to any medication they might need during active duty could help bring more men and women home safely.
“Traditional pathways to [FDA] approval and licensure of critical medical products for battlefield use are too slow to allow for rapid insertion and use of these products on the battlefield,” according to the conference report. “This provision could lead to even higher survival rates from severe battlefield wounds suffered by service members.”
Despite the outcome of the defense bill having very little effect on everyday life in the United States, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb continues to protest its implications. He believes that without the guidance of his agency, military personnel would suffer greater risks. It is for this reason the FDA has countered the DOD’s proposal—asking that military officials be forced to petition the FDA for emergency medications.
That offer wasn’t approved.
Although there is nothing written in the language of the bill that specifies the emergency use of medical marijuana (the argument actually stems from the military’s inability to get “frozen plasma”), if the plan would, in fact, give the Pentagon the right to distribute unapproved medications, it stands to reason that cannabis would be high on the list.
After all, the latest poll shows that 82 percent of veterans are in favor of marijuana being legalized for medicinal use.
It is even conceivable that that the Pentagon would rather treat soldiers suffering from chronic pain and anxiety with medical marijuana instead of high-powered prescription drugs.
In 2009, psychiatrist Judith Broder, M. D., founder of the Soldiers Project, which works with service members dealing with mental illness, told Men’s Health, “The military is under great pressure to have enough people ready for combat.”
She said this is one of the reasons the armed forces are not necessarily keen on feeding their people narcotics before sending them out in the field to perform “potentially hazardous tasks.”
One thing is certain—the Pentagon, much like the community trying to research marijuana for its therapeutic potential, is tired of waiting on the FDA for drugs that might benefit its soldiers.
The discussion over this topic is expected to heat up again sometime this week.