House Committee Passes Bills to Approve Veterans’ Access to Medical Cannabis

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This year’s first markup of cannabis-related legislation on Capitol Hill involves military veterans and their access to cannabis. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Thursday advanced two bills: the Veterans Equal Access Act and the VA Medical Cannabis Research Act. 

HR 712, or the VA Medical Cannabis Research Act would require Veterans Affairs to conduct clinical studies on the medical benefits of cannabis, especially in regard to chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and opioid addiction. Introduced by Rep. Lou Correa, this bill has 105 cosponsors and was approved in a voice vote.

After the vote, Correa tweeted, “This is a huge step forward for veterans yearning for alternatives to dangerous opioids.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s Veterans Equal Access Act, otherwise known as HR 1647, would also permit Veterans Affairs providers to recommend state-legal medical marijuana programs to patients. The committee approved the bill in a 15-11 vote.

“Our distinguished service-people have waited far too long for the ability to use the medicine that works for them without fear of punishment,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, in a statement. “The VA can benefit tremendously from the knowledge that will come from mandating the research that it has avoided or ignored up to this point.”

Veterans are not in danger of losing benefits and access to their Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits if they take advantage of a medicinal cannabis program in their state. Even so, VA providers are unable to discuss medical cannabis for veterans even in states where medical cannabis is legal. There are a total of 33 states plus Washington, D.C. that allow cannabis for medicinal purposes.

In a statement, NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said, “It is imperative that we approve legislation such as the Veterans Equal Access Act so that the countless vets suffering from post-traumatic stress and other debilitating disorders have access to the safe and effective option of medical marijuana treatment.”

In late February, the VA released a notice that it is seeking information about the potential of cannabis to treat common medical conditions for veterans, though Marijuana Moment reports that this was deleted soon after being posted online. The report stated that the VA Clinical Science Research and Development Service is developing a research program in order to better understand the medical benefits of cannabis on symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

“We hope to support a series of clinical trials, which in case of positive outcomes, will generate robust data to support the use of cannabinoid(s) for pain and/or PTSD (or one or more of its symptoms,” the report reads.

A VA representative later told Marijuana Moment that the report was “rescinded for edits” and a revised version will be published “at a future date.”

Both HR 712 and HR 1647 are headed to the full House for a floor vote. The bills still need to be passed by the full U.S. House and Senate and signed by President Trump.

Photo via Janon Stock/Shutterstock

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