H.R. 5520 -The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018 was introduced by Congressional representative Timothy J. Walz on April 16, 2018. The bipartisan bill authorizes the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct and support research on the efficacy and safety of certain forms of cannabis and cannabis delivery for veterans enrolled in the VA health care system diagnosed with conditions such as chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder. However, because marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 drug under federal law, VA research of the marijuana to treat PTSD and chronic pain would require approval from five governmental agencies. Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia but is still illegal to use or possess under federal law.
Currently veterans using medical marijuana to treat the Big Three – pain, sleep and anxiety- receive no guidance from VA doctors on appropriate dosages, the potential for interactions with other medications, and what type of marijuana products to use to treat which illness.
A recent article in the New York Times described a scene where veterans in Santa Cruz, California were lined up to receive free bags containing marijuana lotions, pills, candies, hemp oils and potent strains of smokable flowers. Local growers donating part of their crop of medical marijuana to veterans view their monthly giveaways as medical compassion. Nearly one million veterans are using medical marijuana with no guidance from VA doctors. Many use the medical marijuana to treat pain otherwise treated with opioids, which have been linked to dependency.
In 2015, Dr. Carolyn Clancy, Deputy Under Secretary for Discovery and Advancement, Veterans Health Administration, testified before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to discuss the VA’s pain management programs and use of medications, particularly opioids, to treat veterans experiencing acute and chronic pain. She reported to the committee that while about 30% of American adults experience chronic pain, the existence of chronic pain among veterans is even greater, with nearly 60% of veterans returning from the Middle East and more than 50% of older veterans in the VA healthcare system experiencing some form of chronic pain. The high rate of chronic pain amongst veterans means the opioid crisis in America is disproportionately affecting veterans.
The American Legion recently conducted a poll of more than 1,300 veterans to gauge veterans’ support of medical marijuana. “According to the survey…92 percent of veteran households support research into the efficacy of medical cannabis for mental and physical conditions.” The survey also found that “83% of veteran households surveyed indicated that they believe the federal government should legalize medical cannabis nationwide, and 82% indicated that they would want to have medical cannabis as a federally-legal treatment option.” The same survey showed that 22% of veterans currently use medical marijuana to treat a medical condition.
Awareness of the unique medical issues facing vets is the first step. The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018 is another step towards addressing the need for more research and for access to medical marijuana for veterans.
This is not intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney for advice regarding your particular specific situation.