The House Committee on Veterans Affairs voted Thursday to pass legislation that would loosen restrictions on researching medical marijuana and expand its availability to veterans.
A markup hearing held on Capitol Hill resulted in two separate bills involving veterans and medical marijuana being passed out of committee, putting each proposal on path to be considered by the full House of Representatives.
The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, introduced by Rep. Lou Correa, California Democrat, compels the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct a clinical trial to study the effects of marijuana on individuals with medical conditions including chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. It was passed by a voice vote.
The Veterans Equal Access Act, offered by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat, authorizes VA doctors to recommend marijuana to patients in states where is legal for medicinal purposes. It passed by a 15-11 vote.
Most states — 33 and counting — have enacted laws establishing programs that enable authorized persons to obtain and use marijuana to treat medical conditions. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, however, meaning the VA is effectively prohibited from recommending pot to patients.
Mr. Blumenauer, chair and co-founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, reacted to the House committee passing his bill by saying it constituted a “monumental day” for veterans.
“We have been working for years to reform this counterproductive policy that forces veterans outside of the VA to receive legal medical cannabis treatment for chronic pain and PTSD,” Mr. Blumenauer said in a statement. “This is the culmination of the tremendous work of our movement, but we will not be finished until this becomes the law of the land. We must reform our federal cannabis policy.”
The VA did not immediately return a request for comment. Larry Mole, chief consultant for the VA’s Population Health department, said last year that the agency will look to the U.S. Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration for guidance as long as marijuana remains considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law.
One-third of the 33 states to legalize medical marijuana have separately enacted laws allowing adults to use pot for recreational purposes. Of those 11, nine have systems in place for adults to purchase recreational marijuana from state-licensed dispensaries.