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VA Committee Recommends Medical Cannabis Research Bill to House

The House Veterans Affairs Committee (November 4) passed a bill that allowed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to examine medical cannabis for veterans.

Lou Correa, Peter Meijer and Peter Meijer sponsored HR-2916. Also known as the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 20,21, it instructs the VA in medical cannabis research. “This bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct clinical trials of the effects of medical-grade cannabis on the health outcomes of covered veterans diagnosed with chronic pain and those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Covered veterans are those who are enrolled in the VA health care system,” the bill summary reads.

It is also stated that both the control group as well as the experimental groups in the trial must have a similar structure and population. The best part is that any veteran who participates in the trials will not need to worry about eligibility or VA benefits.

On the November 4th meeting, Chairman Mark Takano briefly discussed HR-2916. “Veterans and veteran service organizations have told us that they overwhelmingly support medical cannabis research at VA. Veterans already have access to cannabis as a way of relieving their pain. Veterans can purchase medical cannabis in 36 states and recreational cannabis in 19 states,” Takano said.

Takano continued, “We simply must equip VA and its healthcare providers with scientific guidance about the potential impacts, benefits and/or dangers of cannabis use to treat chronic pain and PTSD. VA says it’s monitoring small research projects that focus on marijuana outside VA. It isn’t enough. VA is required to use the clinical trial framework and methodological rigor to address these crucial questions. We owe our veterans no less.”

Mariannette Miller–Meeks, Representative of the District of Columbia, proposed an amendment to the meeting as a response. In response to HR-2916, she proposed a bill amendment, HR-2922, which she called the Veterans Cannabis Analysis Research and Effectiveness Act. Although she acknowledges that her and Correa’s bill share some goals, she believes Correa’s bill is not the ideal way to assist veterans. “…his bill takes an overly prescriptive approach to requiring the VA conduct research on medical marijuana,” she began. “I am sure that it is well-intentioned. However, what that would do is unfairly tie the hands of the VA researchers who are responsible for designing and conducting these studies and undermine their work to such an extent as to render it meaningless.”

“That is why my amendment, in the nature of a substitute, would replace the text of Congressman Correa’s bill, with the text of my bill which would also require VA to conduct research regarding medical marijuana but would also give VA researchers the flexibility to design that research for themselves,” Miller-Meeks continued. “This would help ensure that politics plays no role in the results of this research and that scientists and researchers, not politicians, inform the VA’s work on medicinal marijuana research so that it yields the best and most useful research results for veterans.”

Chairman Mark Takano stated that, “Unfortunately, I cannot support your amendment which would give VA far more leeway in determining how to study the possible use of cannabis and treating pain and PTSD and veterans,” Takano said. “With all due respect, VA could be doing that level of research now and simply has chosen not to. VA’s Office of Research and Development can absolutely handle a clinical trial. They already do many. And it’s time to bring the scientific weight of that gold standard approach to the issue of cannabis use.”

There was continued discussion on Miller-Meek’s bill by Ranking Member Mike Bost, but ultimately her bill was not agreed to by the committee. However, the House of Representatives was able to request HR-2916 for additional consideration.