Veterans groups are calling on lawmakers to ease federal restrictions on cannabis to clear the way for military vets to gain access to medical cannabis through the Department of Veterans Affairs. In joint meetings of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs (VA) committees held on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, veterans service organizations including Disabled Veterans of America (DAV) and AMVETS called on Congress to enact several key cannabis policy reforms.
The groups called for action from the federal government including a request that the VA support and expand research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis to treat service-related conditions among our nation’s veterans. Other reforms called for lawmakers to remove barriers to studying Schedule I drugs that show the potential to have medical value and an end to restrictions that bar VA doctors from writing medical cannabis recommendations for their patients.
Andrew Marshall, the national commander of DAV, wrote in a statement to Congress that the group supports “VA research into the medical efficacy of cannabis for treatment of service-connected veterans.”
AMVETS National Commander Greg Heun noted in written testimony that dozens of states representing more than half of the nation’s population have legalized at least some form of medical cannabis, “yet veterans have no way to access cannabis through the Department of Veterans Affairs and risk loss of employment or imprisonment for cannabis use in certain circumstances.”
“We call upon the White House and Congress to fulfill their responsibilities to the nation’s veterans by recognizing the inappropriateness of cannabis’ current scheduling and removing it from the Controlled Substance Act, by removing the roadblocks to expanding approved cultivation and research and committing all necessary resources to understand the therapeutic potential of cannabis and bringing those derived medications to veterans as quickly as possible,” Heun added.
Pending Legislation for Veterans Stalled in Congress
Last year, Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California introduced legislation that would grant military vets safe harbor to use medical marijuana in accordance with state or tribal law and permit VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis. Another bill from Rep. Lou Correa, also a California Democrat, would direct the VA to study the potential of cannabis to treat conditions faced by vets, including PTSD and depression.
“The VA keeps saying, ‘We have the authority, we don’t need you to micromanage us.’ But we do – because they’re not doing their job,” Correa said.
So far, neither piece of legislation has been referred out of committee to receive a vote, despite bipartisan support for the reforms in both chambers of Congress.
Jeremy Butler, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), also supplied written testimony for last week’s committee hearings.
“Support for the use of medical cannabis to treat the wounds of war has been growing among the veteran population for years, and members have repeatedly voiced their support,” he wrote. “Veterans consistently and passionately have communicated that cannabis offers effective help in tackling some of the most pressing injuries we face when returning from war.”
Butler went on to note that research has shown evidence has shown that cannabis has the potential to treat conditions that challenge many former military service members, yet “federal bureaucratic hurdles continue to halt the system and stymie good research.”
“We will never get a definitive answer on the efficacy of cannabis as a treatment option while federal regulations that actively undermine solid research studies remain in place. The system is antiquated and must be adjusted to match state laws and research needs. For these reasons, in the 117th Congress IAVA will continue our work to remove these barriers to research and usage to those veterans where it is already legal by advocating to remove cannabis as a Schedule I drug.”