House lawmakers introduced a bill Jan. 23, 2019, that would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct studies on the benefits of medical marijuana for military veterans.
Reps. Lou Correa, a California Democrat, and Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican, filed the legislation days after another bipartisan duo in the Senate introduced an identical companion bill.
The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act would mandate research into the potential therapeutic use of cannabis for conditions that commonly afflict veterans such as chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.
While similar legislation filed during the last Congress said the VA “may conduct and support research relating to the efficacy and safety of forms of cannabis,” this latest version contains more forceful language, stipulating that the VA “shall” carry out the clinical trials on marijuana.
“For veterans suffering from PTSD, TBIs, chronic pain, or any of the numerous service-related ailments cannabis may help, time equals pains,” Andrew Scibetta, Correa's communications director, told Marijuana Moment in an email when asked about the language change from the prior version. “We see this legislation as an opportunity to get this done for them, and hopefully, help our vets live better and pain-free.”
Under the legislation, the VA would also be required to supply Congress with a plan for its research initiatives and periodically report on their progress and findings.
“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 wrote in a press release. “Numerous veterans attest to the treatment benefits of medical cannabis. It's time the VA did a formal study.”
“Rather than risk becoming dependent on opioids, these veterans find relief in medical cannabis.”
Higgins added that the research “is necessary to ensure the safety and effectiveness of medical cannabis for veterans in states where it is legal.”
During the last Congress, the House legislation — introduced by Democratic Minnesota Rep. Timothy Walz and Republican Tennessee Rep. David Roe received 55 co-sponsors. In May 2018, it became the first stand-alone marijuana bill ever to clear a congressional panel after the House Veterans' Affairs Committee approved it.
Correa said he “will work to make this the first veterans cannabis bill to pass the House. The momentum, support, and dedication are there. We need to get this done for our veterans.”
VA leadership has historically declined to take action on marijuana research, in part due to apparent misunderstandings about the law. For example, then-VA Secretary David Shulkin falsely wrote that “federal law restricts VA's ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana, or to refer veterans to such projects” in a 2018 letter to lawmakers. But that's not the case, as a Brookings Institution report rebutted the official reasoning behind the VA's position.
Several other marijuana reform bills have already been filed in the 116th Congress, which began in January 2019.