Medical cannabis has the potential to help military veterans find relief from war wounds, the Trump administration’s top veterans affairs official says.
“Some of the states that have put in appropriate controls, there may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful, and we’re interested in looking at that and learning from that,” David Shulkin, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, said in a briefing with reporters on Wednesday.
“I believe that everything that could help veterans should be debated by Congress and medical experts, and we will implement that law,” he said. “If there is compelling evidence that this is helpful, I hope that people take a look at that and come up with the right decision and we will implement that.”
He was responding to a question about the American Legion’s push for cannabis to be rescheduled so that its medical benefits can be more robustly studied.
The organization, which represents more than 2 million military veterans, first endorsed rescheduling in a resolution adopted at its conference last year. In addition to relieving physical pain, a growing number of veterans are using cannabis to manage the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Last week, top American Legion officials published an op-ed laying out the group’s case for reform.
“The opioid epidemic that continues to grip veterans is yet another reason to ease the federal government’s outdated attitude toward America’s marijuana supply. The Trump administration should lead a new effort to combat opioid abuse, and it should include the elimination of barriers to medical research on cannabis,” they wrote. “The result, potentially, could provide a non-addictive solution to the most common debilitating conditions our veterans — and others in society — face… Cannabis’ Schedule I listing is disingenuous given the fact that the federal government cannot produce any research or evidence justifying its classification – which significantly hampers medical research into the therapeutic aspects of the drug. It’s a classic Catch-22.”
Because of cannabis’s status under Schedule I — the most restrictive category, which is supposed to be reserved for substances with no medical value — researchers interested in studying it encounter extra procedural hurdles that don’t apply to examinations of other drugs.
At the Wednesday briefing, Shulkin suggested that it would be up to Congress to make changes to federal marijuana policy.
“Until time the federal law changes, we are not able to be able to prescribe medical marijuana for conditions that may be helpful,” he said of his department’s medical doctors.
But under the Controlled Substances Act the Trump administration does have the power to administratively reschedule marijuana.
Shulkin, who previously served as the VA’s undersecretary of health in the Obama administration, has seemed somewhat open to increasing military veterans’ access to medical marijuana in the past. In a letter last year he wrote that he “wholeheartedly agree[s] that VA should do all it can to foster open communication between Veterans and their VA providers, including discussion about participation in state marijuana programs.”
He also wrote, “I recognize that the disparity between Federal and state laws regarding the use of marijuana creates considerable uncertainty for patients, providers, and Federal, state, and local law enforcement personnel.”
Last year, both the House and the Senate approved measures to allow VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis to veterans in states where it is legal. But the provisions were later stripped out by the conference committee that merged both chambers’ separate legislation into a final version of the VA funding bill.