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Key House Committee to Vote on Veterans Marijuana Research Bill This Week

A congressional committee is due to vote Thursday on a bill that would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct clinical trials on the therapeutic potential of marijuana for military veterans.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a markup of legislation from Representative Lou Correa (D-CA). Its bill, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, would require the department to initiate a series of studies on the use of medical marijuana to treat PTSD and chronic pain. Earlier versions of the measure authorized the panel in 2020 and 2018, but were not enacted.

This week’s new action comes a month after a subcommittee held a hearing on the proposal, with the Biden administration voicing its opposition to the reform.

Correa said at the time that his bill was “pragmatic, bipartisan legislation that would advance our understanding of the impacts of medical cannabis use and could improve the lives of veterans and other Americans.”

But a representative from VA rejected the proposal, saying any clinical trial involving human subjects that carries potential risks must use the “smallest number of participants necessary to avoid putting subjects at unnecessary risk.”

With respect to marijuana, some effects “are not known,” said David Carroll of VA, “so a circumscribed approach to determining dose, modality of administration and best outcome measure needs to be demonstrated in an approach. proof of concept to ensure the validity of the research. “

Additionally, Carroll argued that some requirements stipulated in the bill, such as studying seven different varieties of cannabis, are “inconsistent with the current state of scientific evidence, suggesting that clinical trials Smaller early-phase controls with a focused set of specific goals are optimal for determining proof of concept for the use of cannabis to treat specific conditions.

VA “is already devoting resources and research expertise to studying the effects of cannabis on conditions affecting veterans,” Carroll said during the subcommittee hearing, although advocates and key lawmakers do not consider these ongoing studies as sufficient.

The department’s response to the bill is consistent with its past testimony, but it is still a disappointment to advocates who had hoped the VA under Biden would ultimately pass the modest reform.

Hopes were even higher after Bill’s sponsor Correa recently informed a separate House panel that he had had a conversation with VA Secretary Denis McDonough on the issue of marijuana and veterans. Groups representing military ex-combatants, meanwhile, supported the legislation.

The bill says the VA secretary “will conduct a series of clinical trials on the effects of medical grade cannabis on the health outcomes of Covered Veterans diagnosed with chronic pain and Covered Veterans diagnosed with chronic pain.” post-traumatic stress “.

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It lists both the “required items” of the tests and the “optional items”. Regarding chronic pain trials, the agency is expected to examine the impact of marijuana use on osteopathic pain, opioid use and dosage, benzodiazepine use and dosage, drug use. alcohol, inflammation, quality of sleep, restlessness and quality of life.

For studies specific to PTSD, VA would examine how cannabis affects basic disease symptoms, benzodiazepine use and dosage, alcohol use, mood, anxiety, social functioning, restlessness, suicidal ideation and quality of sleep.

Optionally, clinical trials “may include an evaluation of the effects of the use of cannabis to treat chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder on” lung function, cardiovascular events, various forms of cancer, intestinal inflammation. , traffic accidents, mania, psychosis, cannabinoid hypermesia syndrome, neuropathy or spasticity.

The bill further details the specific methodological standards of the clinical trials that would be required. It would, for example, require researchers to use “no less than seven unique plant cultivars” with specific ratios of THC and CBD, and says the trials will involve “whole plant raw materials and extracts.”

In addition to his stand-alone bill, Correa separately proposed requiring cannabis studies in the VA as an amendment to a defense spending bill that passed the House in September. But he withdrew it before a House Rules Committee hearing.

In June, a Senate committee held a hearing on a bill similarly requiring the department to conduct clinical trials on the therapeutic potential of marijuana for veterans with PTSD and chronic pain, but a representative from VA said the Biden administration opposed the reform. The Senate panel has yet to vote on its version of the legislation.

At the last Congress in 2019, President Donald Trump’s VA spoke out against a series of bills designed to protect the benefits of veterans who use marijuana, allow doctors in the department to recommend medical cannabis, and expand research on the therapeutic potential of the plant.

In 2018, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee was the first congressional panel to approve a marijuana reform bill by passing an earlier version of the legislation to encourage VA to conduct research on the medical benefits of cannabis.

Despite VA’s open opposition to various marijuana reform proposals in the past, a department official recently said he was following research on the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics like MDMA for veterans “very closely”. military.

Earlier this year, a bipartisan coalition of congressional lawmakers reintroduced bills that would federally legalize medical cannabis for military veterans.

Representative Greg Steube (R-FL) presented a proposal in January to ensure that military veterans are not penalized for using medical cannabis in accordance with state law. It would also codify that VA doctors are allowed to discuss the risks and benefits of marijuana with their patients.

VA physicians are currently permitted to discuss cannabis with patients and document its use in medical records, and these veteran patients are already protected by agency policy against losing their benefits for using marijuana, but the bill would enshrine these policies in federal law so that they cannot be administratively changed in the future.

A US Army veteran who was deported to Jamaica following a marijuana conviction was recently allowed to return to the country following a concerted request for relief from members of Congress.

Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Mark Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the head of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in July asking him to reopen the case .

Thirty members of the Congressional Black Caucus have separately urged the Biden administration to reopen some deportation cases, including those involving cannabis like Bailey’s.

Illinois has sold over $ 1 billion worth of marijuana so far this year, state officially announces

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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