A Democratic congressman says that it’s time for Congress to give the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) a mandate to study the benefits and risks of marijuana for military veterans.
At a Member Day hearing before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Thursday, Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) urged the panel to advance his bipartisan bill, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act.
Back when he was serving in the California legislature, Correa said veterans started approaching him—”slowly, gradually but firmly”—and describing their struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and their desire to use cannabis as an alternative to the traditional pharmaceuticals they were being prescribed.
“So throughout the years, I’ve worked on the VA essentially doing research into what cannabis is good for and what it’s not good for,” he said. “It’s not up to Lou or to us to determine what our veterans need or want. It’s up to them to tell us what they need. And the vast majority of veterans, in my opinion, are using cannabis.”
“All my legislation asks for is for the VA to do some research into what is cannabis good for and what is it not good for. We’re simply asking the question, and we want the VA to answer the question,” he said at the hearing.
Correa said that he generally doesn’t “like mandates,” but it’s become necessary to force the department to carry out the research because lawmakers have “asked the VA to do this for a number of years now” without success.
“I get it. There’s more important things out there. But this is important for veterans,” he said. “I just ask for your strong consideration of this legislation. Simple, straightforward: Give the veterans what they want.”
Correa had a conversation with VA Secretary Denis McDonough about the issue of marijuana and veterans last year, and so there were some heightened expectations that the department might reverse course on the legislation—but that hasn’t happened to date.
A Senate version of the congressman’s bill did pass in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee in February, marking the first time that standalone cannabis legislation ever advanced through a panel in the chamber. But Senate Republicans blocked a procedural motion to move it to the floor in April.
A prior version of the legislation cleared a House committee in 2021, despite the protests of VA officials. Earlier iterations of the measure also moved through committee in 2020 and 2018 as well, but none were enacted into law.
VA would get a separate mandate to study medical cannabis issues under an amendment that was attached to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Wednesday. A separate provision of the must-passed bill that cleared committee would require research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
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Meanwhile, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) filed a different bill late last month that would similarly promote research into the medical potential of marijuana for military veterans with PTSD, chronic pain and other conditions deemed appropriate by the VA secretary.
A coalition of more than 20 veterans service organizations (VSOs) sent a letter to congressional leaders late last year to urge the passage of a marijuana and veterans research bill before the end of the last Congress. But that did not pan out.
Bipartisan House and Senate lawmakers also refiled bills in April to legalize medical cannabis for military veterans.
The legislation would temporarily allow veterans to legally possess and use marijuana under federal law, as recommended by doctors in accordance with state law. Physicians with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) would also be allowed for the first time to issue such recommendations.