Senators vote to broaden medical cannabis access for military veterans

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

On Wednesday, August 4, a Senate committee passed an amendment that will act as a catalyst for doctors to issue military veterans with medical cannabis prescriptions. 

As per details of the amendment, doctors in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) would be legally allowed to issue cannabis recommendations, so long as the veteran on the receiving end of a recommendation resides in a legal state.

Following a voice vote in favor of the measure, which is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the amendment was approved in the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

Other than simplifying access to medical cannabis among military veterans, the measure would forbid the VA from denying or obstructing veteran participation in state-legal medical cannabis programs.

“We now have 36 states that have medical cannabis, and our veterans want to know from their VA doctor what their thoughts are on the pros and cons or appropriate role or challenges of this particular strategy for treating a variety of issues, including PTSD,” explained Merkley. “I think it’s really important that we not force our veterans to be unable to discuss this issue with their doctors.”

Text of the amendment to increase medical cannabis access for military veterans

The recently approved amendment to increase medical cannabis access for military veterans is part of a bill to fund the VA for Fiscal Year 2022. Data for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Fiscal Year 2022 can be accessed via the official VA website

Including medical care collections, the total 2022 request for VA is $269.9 billion. In comparison with Fiscal Year 2021, this is a 10 percent increase.

Featured below is an excerpt of text from the amendment:

“SEC. ___ 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.”

Back in 2018, a similar proposal cleared the Appropriations Committee, but failed to progress further. During the most recent Congress, numerous chunks of cannabis and veterans-focused legislation have been proposed.

Legislation has been approved by the House on many occasions that would grant VA doctors the right to distribute medical cannabis recommendations among patients. However, this type of legislation has never actually been adopted by lawmakers.

Although the Senate committee’s most recent approval is promising, many lawmakers are concerned that the Justice Department may still take action against physicians due to the cannabis plant’s illegal federal status.

Michigan invests $20M in cannabis revenue to research medical cannabis for veterans with PTSD

In separate (albeit related) news, Michigan State officials have revealed that $20 million will be invested in medical cannabis research for military veterans. The research project’s funding comes from tax revenue generated through Michigan’s adult-use cannabis program.

Tuesday. August 10 was the date on which the research initiative was announced to the public. Almost $13 million of the funding will be used to explore “the efficacy of [cannabis] in treating the medical conditions of United States armed service veterans and preventing veteran suicide.” 

According to beneficiaries at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the research grant will provide capital for the next stage of the first ever clinical trial into the benefits of inhaled botanical cannabis for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Moreover, the trial is believed to be the second of its kind to compare the safety and potency of cannabis in comparison with a placebo.

An additional $7 million in cannabis revenue-sourced grant money was bestowed upon Wayne State University’s Bureau of Community Action and Economic Opportunity. The educational institution has teamed up with researchers to better understand cannabis’ potential for treating PTSD and other mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, suicidality and sleep disorders.

Both research grants are part of Michigan’s $20 million Veteran Marijuana Research Grant Program. The program was formed following voter-approved legalization in 2018.