Congressional Committee Advances Cannabis Bills for Veterans

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The House Veterans’ and Affairs Committee approved a pair of bills Thursday that would increase access to medical marijuana for military veterans and expand research of medical-grade cannabis.

The Veterans Equal Access Act (H.R. 1647), which was passed by a vote of 15-11, would authorize health care providers employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe cannabis in states where medical marijuana use is legal.

Meanwhile, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act (H.R. 712), which was approved in a voice vote, would permit the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to conduct clinical trials of cannabis and study the health outcomes of veterans diagnosed with chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Both bills will now head to the full House for a vote.

In a statement, Don Murphy, the director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), called the advancement of the two bills “an encouraging step forward for federal cannabis reform.”

“Now that a majority of states have legalized cannabis for medical use, it is indefensible to restrict veterans’ ability to access medical cannabis through their VA providers while members of Congress can use their federally subsidized health insurance to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from their doctors,” he said. “Federal law should not criminalize veterans for trying to find relief.”

The Veterans Equal Access Act, sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), was introduced more than one year ago. It has 19 cosponsors, 12 of whom originally signed onto the bill.

Meanwhile, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, sponsored by Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA), was introduced on January 23, 2019. It has 105 cosponsors.

In a note to investors, Cowen analyst Jaret Seiberg said he expects the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act to be signed into law this year.

“Our expectation is that the full House will approve both measures, though the crisis over the coronavirus could delay action until the third quarter,” he wrote. 

Seiberg was less optimistic about the chances of the Veterans Equal Access Act gaining traction in the Senate, however.

“If House Republicans objected, then it is hard to see how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would get on board,” he wrote. 

For his part, National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) executive director Aaron Smith praised the passage of the bills, saying that “distinguished service-people have waited far too long for the ability to use the medicine that works for them without fear of punishment,”

“It is heartening to see that Congress is still pursuing cannabis policy reform and looking out for vulnerable groups like veterans despite being occupied with another serious public health issue,” he added, referring to the coronavirus pandemic that as of press time has claimed the lives of 41 people in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Meanwhile, NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri believes it is “imperative” to approve 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," he said.

The use of cannabis for recreational use is legal in 11 states and Washington D.C., while medical marijuana sales are legal in 33 states. However, cannabis is still considered a Schedule I drug under federal law, meaning VA doctors are unable to recommend its use for medical purposes.

Additional details are available in press releases from the NCIA and MPP, included below.

MPP: U.S. House Committee Approves Medical Cannabis Bills

Washington, D.C. — Today, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved bipartisan bills that would increase access to state-legal medical cannabis for military veterans and expand research into the potential medical benefits of cannabis for conditions commonly diagnosed in veterans. 

The committee approved the Veterans Equal Access Act in a 15-11 vote and approved the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act in a voice vote with no opposition. 

The Veterans Equal Access Act (H.R. 1647), sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), would allow physicians and other healthcare workers employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical cannabis in compliance with state laws and fill out any forms necessary to certify patients for a state medical cannabis program. 

The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act (H.R. 712), sponsored by Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA), would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct clinical trials researching the health outcomes of using medical cannabis to treat chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

A 2017 study by the American Legion found that veterans overwhelmingly support federally legalizing medical cannabis (83%) and support research into medical cannabis (92%). To date, 33 states and Washington, D.C. have effective medical marijuana programs. 

Statement from Don Murphy, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project:

“Today’s committee vote is an encouraging step forward for federal cannabis reform. Now that a majority of states have legalized cannabis for medical use, it is indefensible to restrict veterans’ ability to access medical cannabis through their VA providers while members of Congress can use their federally subsidized health insurance to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from their doctors. Federal law should not criminalize veterans for trying to find relief.

“Passing these bills should be the first order of business for a Congress that prides itself on supporting our veterans. Like every American, veterans should be granted the freedom to access cannabis to treat their medical conditions as an alternative to potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals.”

NCIA: House Committee Approves Veterans Affairs Medical Cannabis Bills

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Committee on Veterans Affairs approved two bills on Thursday that would loosen restrictions on medical cannabis research and use by veterans. The VA Medical Cannabis Research Act as amended by the committee would require the VA to conduct clinical studies on the medical benefits of cannabis for veterans, and would protect people participating in state medical cannabis programs from losing benefits and services through the VA system. The bill, which was introduced by Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) and currently has 105 cosponsors, was approved in a voice vote.

Next, the committee approved the Veterans Equal Access Act in a vote of 15-11. This bill would allow physicians and other healthcare professionals in the VA system to discuss medical cannabis with patients and provide recommendations in accordance with applicable state laws. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and currently has 18 cosponsors.

Both bills will now head to the full House for a floor vote.

“We commend our friends Rep. Correa and Rep. Blumenauer for working so hard to get these bills to a House vote, and we want to thank Chairman Takano for allowing this committee markup,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “Our distinguished service-people have waited far too long for the ability to use the medicine that works for them without fear of punishment, and 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.”

“It is heartening to see that Congress is still pursuing cannabis policy reform and looking out for vulnerable groups like veterans despite being occupied with another serious public health issue,” Smith continued.

Cannabis is legal for adults in eleven states as well as the District of Columbia and the territories of CNMI and Guam, and 33 states as well as several territories have comprehensive medical cannabis laws. The substance is legal in some form in 47 states.

The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) is the largest cannabis trade association in the U.S. and the only organization broadly representing cannabis-related businesses at the national level. NCIA promotes the growth of a responsible and legitimate cannabis industry and works toward a favorable social, economic, and legal environment for that industry in the United States.