Bipartisan Concern For Veterans Drives Bill To Allow VA To Research Medical Marijuana

Photo Credit: Tom Sydow

It’s not receiving the fanfare bestowed on many of the issues surrounding marijuana, but a new bill introduced in Congress with bipartisan support is calling for more study on the potential for medical marijuana. Behind it is an issue that unites both political parties and has become a focus of many pro-marijuana stances: providing help to veterans.

The new bill calls on the Veterans Administration to conduct research into how marijuana could be used to treat disabled veterans. Among them is the potential use of cannabis to treat pain and reduce reliance on opioids, a drug that has led to an epidemic of overdoses.

“Never a better time”

Rep. Tim Walz, a Minnesota Democrat and ranking member on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, introduced the bill along with committee Chairman Phil Roe, a Republican from Tennessee. It has been co-sponsored by 28 Democrats and seven Republicans, according to a release from the committee.

The legislation comes just months after the VA said it could not research marijuana because of federal restrictions. Marijuana remains a Schedule I illegal drug at the federal level. The new legislation does not seek to change that. However, it would give legal authority to the VA to “advance scientific and medical research into the safety and efficacy of medicinal cannabis usage by veterans.”

Walz said in the release that that VA is the perfect organization to take on cannabis research and that “there will never be a better time to act.”

Research is all but banned

The VA’s reluctance to research marijuana mirrors an issue that all researchers, public and private, have with marijuana in the U.S. Not only does federal law still list cannabis as illegal, but the government mandates that only marijuana grown at a facility in Mississippi be used for research.

Meanwhile, other countries have leapt ahead. One of the most notable is Israel. A company there, Globus Pharma, this month announced a deal to sell five tons of medical cannabis oil to a company in Canada. The two companies also plan to cooperate in conducting research into the potential uses of medical marijuana. The Israeli company, Globus Pharma, has a similar deal with a German company, according to Reuters.

The unnamed Canadian company plans to sell medical marijuana products. Canada already has already made medical marijuana legal. Nationwide legal recreational marijuana sales are expected to start there in July.

Roe, the House committee chairman, is a doctor. In the press release from the committee, he made the simple argument that many veterans he has spoken with believe marijuana can help them with “both physical and invisible wounds.”

“This is why I support the department researching cannabis just like any other drug to see if this alternative therapy would truly benefit patients.” Roe said.