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Lawmakers Want to Expand VA Medical Cannabis Research, Can’t Agree on How to Do it

They agree that the lack of research is a problem.

Lawmakers Want to Expand VA Medical Cannabis Research, Can't Agree on How to Do it
Roxana Gonzales/ Shutterstock

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced two bills last week that would call on the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand research into the medicinal use of cannabis. One of the measures would closely dictate the direction research at the VA should take, while the other would allow the agency more discretion.

House Bill 712 was introduced on January 23 by Democratic Rep. Lou Correa of California and Rep. Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican. Under their bill, the VA would, among other things, be directed to conduct a clinical trial of the effects of cannabis on adults with chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. Correa said in a statement that the VA needs to develop new approaches to treating those who have answered the nation’s call to military service.

“With the opioid crisis raging across America, it is imperative to the health and safety of our veterans that we find alternative treatments for chronic pain and service-related injuries,” Correa said. “It’s time the VA did a formal study.”

Competing Measure Gives VA More Latitude

A second measure, House Bill 747, was introduced the following day by Rep. Phil Roe, a Republican from Tennessee. His bill would also call on the VA to conduct research into medicinal cannabis, but would permit the agency to decide how to proceed.

“We should require VA to do this research, but also should let the scientists have the freedom to do their job,” Roe said in a statement.

But backers of Correa’s bill believe that approach could allow the VA, which has long resisted the medicinal use of cannabis for veterans, to waste more time. Correa said in a statement that the agency could have already begun to study medical cannabis under current law.

“The department has had the authority to do this research for a long time, and has continually avoided it,” Correa said. “Our legislation denies them the opportunity to push the buck any longer.”

Tom Porter, the director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, has come out in support of Correa’s bill. He said that a majority of the vets in his organization approve of the use of medical marijuana.

“Our members have spoken loud and clear on this issue,” said Porter. “In our latest member survey, 63 percent supported and only 15 percent opposed legalization for the medical use of cannabis. This bill takes a giant and necessary step forward to determine the safety and efficacy of medicinal cannabis.”

Both H.B. 712 and H.B. 747 have been referred to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for consideration. The complete text of the measures has not yet been published by the House of Representatives website.

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