Congress Considers Ordering VA to Study Marijuana for Veterans

MarijuanaMarijuana is illegal under federal law even in states where it's legal under state law.

As a result, as Rolling Stone notes, "most cannabis companies are forced to function as all-cash businesses, and they struggle to get capital investments and loans from banks, which remain wary of federal law enforcement officials."

Members of Congress are trying to change the federal law. As Rolling Stone reports,

If it passes, the STATES – Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States– Act would end the federal prohibition of marijuana and formally enshrine protections for the states that have decided to legalize either recreational or medicinal marijuana. Currently, marijuana is listed as a federally controlled substance, but this bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act – basically, it would remove marijuana from the schedule of illegal drugs in states that choose to legalize.

The federal prohibition on marijuana can be especially hard on veterans who rely on the Veterans Administration (VA) for health care.

Schedule 1

Because cannabis is a "Schedule 1" drug under federal law, researchers need approval from five separate federal agencies in order to study it.

Only two small studies by the VA are underway. As the New York Times reports:

One, in San Diego, looks at whether cannabidiol, a nonintoxicating component of cannabis, can help patients during PTSD therapy; it is scheduled to continue through 2023. The other, planned for South Carolina, would examine the palliative effects of cannabis in hospice patients.

Care Packages

In California, some local pot growers donate part of their crop to make free "care packages" for ailing veterans, as the Times reports:

The monthly giveaway bags often contain marijuana lotions, pills, candies and hemp oils, as well as potent strains of smokable flower with names like Combat Cookies and Kosher Kush. But the veterans do not get any medical guidance on which product might help with which ailment, how much to use, or how marijuana might interact with other medications.

The Department of Veterans Affairs health system "won’t recommend cannabis products for patients, and for the most part it has declined even to study their potential benefits."

Medical Marijuana

Thirty states allow the use of medical marijuana in some form, even if marijuana use is otherwise illegal.

The New York Times reports that a study shows that nearly a million veterans may be using medical marijuana.

A 2017 survey found that almost 9% of veterans had used cannabis in the past year, with half of the uses for medical purposes.

Nine states and Washington, DC have legalized marijuana for recreational use for adults over the age of 21.

Congress is considering another bill that would order the VA to study the safety and effectiveness of marijuana for the treatment of chronic pain and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

According to Nick Etten, an Annapolis graduate and former Navy SEAL who runs an advocacy group called the Veterans Cannabis Project, marijuana "helps with the Big Three we struggle with after combat — pain, sleep and anxiety — and it is safer than many medications.”

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