A bipartisan team of lawmakers plans to introduce a package of bills aimed at reforming marijuana policies at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on Wednesday.
Just days after Veterans Day, Reps. Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) are filing three pieces of legislation that seek to cement the VA’s existing administrative policy of protecting patients who discuss their marijuana history, survey veterans on medical cannabis use and assist in education programs focusing on marijuana treatment at medical universities.
“Our veterans are seeking alternative options to opioids and we should be supporting their desires not to be addicted to painkillers,” Moulton said in a press release. “Let’s not kid ourselves, people are using marijuana—including our veterans.”
“We have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible. We also have an obligation to make sure our veterans are getting the best healthcare in the world. We have a long road ahead of us until medicinal cannabis is fully researched and legal but we can take a few steps now to start figuring that out.”
The bills are designed to do as follows, per the press release:
* The Department of Veterans Affairs Policy for Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018. This bill would amend and codify a medicinal cannabis policy the VA has but is not widely disbursed. As more veterans turn to medicinal cannabis to more effectively treat their various service- and non-service related injuries, the relationship with their healthcare providers is becoming ever more important. The VA has a policy protecting a veteran’s benefits if they discuss their medicinal cannabis use with their health care provider; however, not all healthcare providers respond in a standard way and veterans still fear and experience repercussions of some kind. This bill clarifies and codifies patients’ and healthcare providers’ roles and responsibilities in incorporating medicinal cannabis into a patient’s treatment plan and requires the policy to be prominently posted in all VA facilities
* The Department of Veterans Affairs Survey of Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018. This bill would have the VA conduct a nation-wide survey of all veterans and VA healthcare providers to learn about how veterans are using medicinal cannabis. From the American Legion’s survey on medicinal cannabis, “22 percent of veterans stated they are currently using cannabis to treat a medical condition and 40 percent of caregivers stated they know a veteran who is using medical cannabis to alleviate a medical condition.” With the growing use of medicinal cannabis among veterans, the VA needs a better understanding of what veterans are doing to self-medicate various conditions.
* The Department of Veterans Affairs Medicinal Cannabis Education Act of 2018. This bill would partner the VA with medical universities who have incorporated medicinal cannabis education into their curriculum to develop continuing education programs for primary healthcare providers.
“These issues can be a matter of life or death for our nation’s veterans,” NORML political director Justin Strekal said in the press release. “The uncertainty of VA policy when it comes to a veteran’s ability to have an honest conversation with their doctor has a deleterious effect on the doctor-patient relationship and dishonors the promise that America made to those who put on the uniform to protect our nation’s freedoms.”
While it is existing VA policy not to punish veterans or doctors for simply discussing medical cannabis, those protections could be revoked at any time by the secretary of veterans affairs. The new bill would cement the approach into federal lawbooks, although it would still not allow VA doctors to actually issue recommendations for medical marijuana in accordance with state laws.
You can read the full text of each new veterans marijuana bill below:
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See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Bipartisan Lawmakers Introduce Three Medical Marijuana Bills For Veterans
A key U.S. Senate panel voted on Thursday to allow doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to issue medical marijuana recommendations to military veterans.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the amendment, offered by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), on a voice vote.
The measure “simply allows veterans to discuss that option [medical cannabis] with their VA doc or physician,” Daines said during a brief debate.
Merkley added that it is an “incredible inconvenience for veterans to be told they have to seek out a whole new medical system” to get cannabis recommendations.
The move comes one day after the House Rules Committee blocked floor votes on several amendments concerning medical cannabis access for veterans.
In past years, previous versions of the cannabis recommendation measure have been approved by the full House and Senate, but have never been enacted into law. The new amendment approved by senators also protects veterans from being denied VA services as a result of their participation in a state medical marijuana program.
Under current VA internal policy, government physicians are barred from filling out medical cannabis recommendations for veterans, even in states where it is legal.
If the measure approved by senators on Thursday is included in final Fiscal Year 2019 spending legislation for the VA, the department would no longer be able to enforce its ban on medical marijuana recommendations.
In a press release about the Appropriations Committee vote, Daines said, “Veterans should not be discriminated against when they seek care at the VA. They deserve access to the treatment that best suits their medical needs, just like they would receive at a non-VA clinic.”
Read the full text of the veterans cannabis amendment:
SEC. 249. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the Department of Veterans Affairs in this Act may be used in a manner that would—
(1) interfere with the ability of a veteran to participate in a medicinal marijuana program approved by a State;
(2) deny any services from the Department to a veteran who is participating in such a program; or
(3) limit or interfere with the ability of a health care provider of the Department to make appropriate recommendations, fill out forms, or take steps to comply with such a program.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Senators Approve Medical Marijuana For Military Veterans
Hundreds of marijuana reform bills have been filed in Congress in recent years, but none have ever been given a vote, until now.
In an historical first, a House committee approved cannabis law reform legislation on Tuesday. While legalization supporters have previously scored victories in the form of amendments attached to larger legislation, none of their standalone bills have ever advanced before.
Though the current proposal is fairly limited in scope — it would encourage the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct research on marijuana’s medical benefits — it comes at a time of unprecedented bipartisan support for cannabis reform and likely signals more action to come on Capitol Hill.
“The tide is turning on cannabis, and today’s vote is the latest example,” Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment. “We still have a long way to go, but we are one step closer to helping our veterans get the care they want and deserve. Now is our moment. Now is the time to redouble our efforts.”
Filed by Veterans’ Affairs Committee GOP Chairman Phil Roe of Tennessee and Congressman Tim Walz of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the committee, along with 52 other cosponsors, the bill would encourage the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to “conduct and support research relating to the efficacy and safety” of medical cannabis “on the health outcomes of covered veterans diagnosed with chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions.”
The committee approved the bill by a voice vote after a brief discussion.
Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) introduced a companion bill in the Senate on Monday.
Under the bill as introduced, VA research would be conducted on whole plant marijuana as well as extracts, and involve “at least three different strains of cannabis with significant variants in phenotypic traits and various ratios of tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol in chemical composition.”
Studies would examine “varying methods of cannabis delivery, including topical application, combustible and noncombustible inhalation, and ingestion.”
The legislation would require VA to preserve all data collected from the studies and issue a report to Congress within 180 days that includes a plan for implementation of research. The department would also have to send updates no less than annually for a period of five years.
Separately, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee called on VA to expand medical cannabis research on Tuesday. In the report attached to legislation to fund VA for Fiscal Year 2019, the panel wrote:
“Cannabis research.—The Committee recognizes that continued focus on the discovery of treatment alternatives for veterans diagnosed with various conditions such as chronic pain and PTSD are essential to reducing the number of veteran suicides. For this reason, the Committee urges VA to utilize funds, in an amount deemed appropriate by the Secretary, to prioritize investments in research on the efficacy and safety of cannabis usage among the veteran population for medicinal purposes. The Committee also requests a report, within 180 days after the enactment of this Act, by the Secretary containing a detailed plan on how the Department expects to pursue this research. The Committee also urges VA to ensure any research conducted or supported by VA on cannabis therapy is preserved in a manner that will facilitate further research.”
While VA is already allowed to participate in cannabis research under current law, its leadership has been reluctant. Former Sec. David Shulkin, for example, repeatedly claimed in public remarks that Congress needs to act before the department can refer veterans to cannabis studies.
Several veterans advocacy organizations submitted testimony in support of the research bill.
“While this bill is certainly modest in its immediate impact, we believe that it is a necessary first step toward building bipartisan support for broader cannabis reform legislation in Congress,” the Veterans Cannabis Coalition said in a statement. “Hundreds of thousands of veterans, like the millions of other Americans who have medicated with cannabis, have experienced profound and sustained relief or elimination of underlying conditions. Many of those conditions–prominently traumatic brain injuries (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and chronic pain–are poorly managed with current medication models, with health providers offering few or no alternatives to powerful pharmaceuticals like opioids, stimulants, and tranquilizers to patients.”
Legalization activists say that the research bill doesn’t go nearly far enough. They want Congress to force the VA to begin letting its doctors issue recommendations for military veterans in states where it is legal.
“The VA has been instrumental in cutting edge research to improve the lives of those who serve our country,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “With nearly 1 in 4 veterans reporting that they consume cannabis to alleviate their ailments, it is absolutely imperative that the VA reform their policies to both conduct research and allow VA doctors to recommend therapeutic cannabis when they see fit.”
Before approving the research bill, the Veterans Affairs Committee adopted an amendment that alters some of its reporting requirements and other provisions.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
First Marijuana Reform Bill Clears Congressional Committee
The vast majority of U.S. military veterans want to have the option to use medical marijuana without being treated as a criminal for it, a new poll finds.
Eighty-one percent of veterans said they “want to have cannabis as a federally-legal treatment,” according to the national survey released on Thursday.
But under current U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy, those who want access to medical cannabis can’t get recommendations from their government doctors and must instead seek help from outside physicians.
Nonetheless, the new survey commissioned by the American Legion, which represents more than 2.4 million military veterans, found that one in five veterans already uses medical cannabis to alleviate a medical or physical condition.
“The majority of veterans surveyed that are using cannabis are over the age of 60,” the group’s polling firm wrote in a memo.
The Legion has been pressuring the federal government to evolve on medical cannabis over the course of the past year.
Video of the American Legion’s press conference with members of Congress.
Most recently, in August, it adopted a resolution calling on VA to let its doctors write medical marijuana recommendations. “More than half the states in the union have passed medical marijuana laws to date,” the group’s resolution reads. “The American Legion urge the United States government to permit VA medical providers to be able to discuss with veterans the use of marijuana for medical purposes and recommend it in those states where medical marijuana laws exist.”
The Legion and other medical cannabis advocates have also called for rescheduling and pressed VA to stop blocking federally-approved researchers from recruiting veterans for research on medical cannabis.
One such study on marijuana’s effects on PTSD has been prevented from reaching veterans at the Phoenix, Arizona VA hospital.
“This study needs 50 more participants and the Phoenix VA is in the best possible position to assist by simply allowing principle investigators to brief [VA] medical staff on the progress of the study, and by allowing clinicians to reveal the existence of the study to potential participants,” the Legion wrote to VA Secretary David Shulkin last month. “Your immediate attention in this important matter is greatly appreciated. We ask for your direct involvement to ensure this critical research is fully enabled.”
The group’s survey found that 92 percent of veterans support expanding medical marijuana research.
Several members of Congress spoke during a press conference at which the Legion released the results of its poll.
Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) called the Legion’s advocacy on the issue “very significant” and said it would help convince more lawmakers to support policy change.
Gaetz also took the opportunity to “condemn in the strongest possible terms the outrageous” remarks that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) made this week comparing the spread of medical cannabis laws to the overprescription of opioids.
“It is shortsighted, it is inaccurate and it is indefensible to suggest that the proliferation of medical cannabis that is saving lives and improving the quality of life for people is somehow analogous to the opioid crisis.”
Chris Christie Compares Medical Marijuana To Opioids Crisis
Gaetz boldly predicted that the House Judiciary Committee, of which he is a member, will hold a hearing on expanding marijuana research by the end of the year.
A group of ten House Democrats last week wrote a letter urging the VA to expand medical cannabis research.
The Legion survey was conducted from October 8-10 and included 1,360 respondents with 802 self-identifying as a veteran or a caregiver of veterans. The margin of error is +/- 3.43% at a 95% confidence level.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Marijuana Poll: Military Veterans Strongly Support Legal Access
After months of advocacy by patients and medical professionals, Colorado has now added post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to its list of qualifying conditions for the state’s medical cannabis program.
On Monday, governor John Hickenlooper made Senate Bill 17 official with his signature. In one week, patients suffering from PTSD can now be recommended medical cannabis with a physician’s authorization. Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the one week delay is simply to allow time for the department to update its medical forms.
The list of qualifying conditions has not been updated since 2001, when the state legalized medical cannabis, the reason being the absence of, “peer-reviewed published studies of randomized controlled trials or well-designed observational studies showing efficacy in humans,” according to previous comments made by officials. The list also includes AIDS, HIV, cachexia, cancer, persistent muscle spasms, seizures, severe nausea, and severe pain. Supporters of the bill included veterans as well as survivors of trauma and abuse.
Colorado’s list of qualifying conditions is rather perfunctory compared to other states, 23 of which already include PTSD in their medical cannabis programs. Multiple veterans organizations have been advocating nationwide for medical cannabis to treat PTSD. As a federal program, the Veteran’s Administration’s policy is to adhere to federal law, and therefore is subject to ongoing cannabis prohibition. As the majority of veterans utilize their VA healthcare benefits, medical cannabis treatments are not only prohibited but can potentially disqualify a veteran from future VA benefits if they use cannabis.
Although recreational cannabis is legal in Colorado, advocates insist that it’s cost-prohibitive for patients looking for ongoing, effective treatment. In addition, the kind of high CBD/low THC products are typically not available within the recreational market, as they do not provide the psychoactive high recreational cannabis customers are seeking.
Opponents of medical cannabis treatment for PTSD are still concerned about the lack of research supporting its effectiveness and the unknown effect it can have on a multi-faceted disorder. There was also the issue of providing PTSD patients under the age of 18 with medical cannabis, so an amendment was added that requires two physician recommendations, with one physician being a board-certified pediatrician or family physician, and another being a board-certified child psychiatrist familiar with the patient.
Even though peer-reviewed, published research is limited, there are promising studies currently in progress that are examining how medical cannabis affects PTSD symptoms. Dr. Sue Sisley is operating a DEA-supervised clinical trial that specifically studies veterans with PTSD. Other studies have examined how patients suffering from PTSD cope using a variety of medications, including medical cannabis. Although PTSD can be routinely diagnosed, there is no one single treatment that works on the majority of patients. In many cases, some form of cognitive behavioral therapy or psychotherapy is recommended alongside a prescription drug treatment.
The current selection of prescription drug therapies can leave patients feeling groggy, tired, and unable to participate in daily activities. For veterans who suffer from multiple conditions, including chronic pain and nerve damage, the combination of drugs that are prescribed can make the side effects even worse. Making medical cannabis available, especially to veterans, allows patients to take control of their treatment and provides an alternative to those who have not found relief elsewhere.