House Subcommittee Takes Up Cannabis Research Bill Aimed at Veterans

Another Congressional hearing on veterans and mostly amounted to tire spinning. 

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on 13 bills, including the VA Cannabis Research Act of 2021, which would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to conduct a series of clinical trials that examine the effects of on specific health outcomes for veterans who have conditions like chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been reluctant to embrace medical cannabis, due to its federal illegality. Today, no VA physician can recommend medical cannabis to a patient, and veterans seeking medical cannabis have to look outside the VA system for access. And, another byproduct of the federal illegality of cannabis has been barriers to research, which also came up repeatedly during Wednesday’s hearing.

Several officials with the Veterans Health Administration, within the VA, spoke at the hearing. And one of them, David Carroll, the executive director of the VA’s Office of Mental Health & Suicide Prevention, made it clear in his submitted testimony that “VA does not support this proposed legislation.”

Subcommittee Chair Julia Brownley pressed Carroll on this during the hearing. “Tell me why the VA is opposed to this,” she said, adding, “If the VA is not going to do the research on the veteran population, then really, who is?”

“VA strongly supports research regarding marijuana for medical purposes,” Carroll responded, referencing one study underway on cannabis and PTSD, and another forthcoming on cannabis and chronic pain. “But,” he continued, turning back to the bill, “the current language is too prescriptive.”

Before moving on, Brownley said, “If there are ways for you to work with [Rep. Lou Correa’s] bill, then we should be doing this because this is an important topic. I know for veterans, I hear from veterans all the time about this, and they really, really want to proceed.”

Several witnesses at the hearing also expressed support for the Cannabis Research Act, including: Disabled American Veterans; Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW); Association of VA Psychologist Leaders; The American Legion; and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

“How long would you say your veterans have been waiting for VA to conduct rigorous scientific studies about cannabis?” Brownley asked Tammy Barlet, VFW’s deputy director of national legislative service.

“Veterans have been waiting far too long for this research to start,” Barlet responded. Then, she called for the VA to be more “transparent,” adding, “VA stated they’re doing the research, but we haven’t seen the study results, we haven’t seen preliminary data or even the research plan that they gave the IRB for review. We need to make sure and keep them accountable. Why can they not show us this material or show us where they are in the process?”

One cannabis and veterans bill that was not on the agenda but that came up several times was the Veterans Cannabis Analysis, Research, and Effectiveness (CARE) Act, sponsored by Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who spoke about her efforts to learn more about cannabis by sitting in on medical cannabis regulators’ meetings in her home state of Iowa.

During his opening remarks, Michigan Rep. Jack Bergman, a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant general, said the Veterans CARE Act should have been on the agenda, calling it “much less prescriptive” than Correa’s bill, “and much more likely to produce actionable results about the effects of medicinal marijuana on veterans with PTSD, chronic pain and more.” 

He concluded, “ have been advocating for the Veterans CARE Act to be considered by this subcommittee or Congress.”

Other veterans and cannabis bills have been introduced this year — including the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, and Veterans Cannabis Use for Safe Healing Act — but none have gained traction in Congress.  

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