On November 4, the House Veterans Affairs Committee passed a bill that would allow the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to study medical cannabis as a treatment option for military veterans.
Sponsored by Representative Lou Correa and Peter Meijer, HR-2916, also called the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2021, instructs the VA to study medical cannabis research. “This bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct clinical trials of the effects of medical-grade cannabis on the health outcomes of covered veterans diagnosed with chronic pain and those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Covered veterans are those who are enrolled in the VA health care system,” the bill summary reads.
The bill also states that the trials must include both a control group and an experimental group that include a balanced representation of the veteran community (similar size, structure and demographics). Most importantly, any veteran who chooses to participate in these trials would not have to worry about their VA benefits or eligibility.
At the November 4 meeting, Chairman Mark Takano spoke briefly about HR-2916. “Veterans and veteran service organizations have told us that they overwhelmingly support medical cannabis research at VA. So many veterans already use cannabis to ease their suffering. Veterans can purchase medical cannabis in 36 states and recreational cannabis in 19 states,” Takano said.
Takano continued, “We simply must equip VA and its healthcare providers with scientific guidance about the potential impacts, benefits and/or dangers of cannabis use to treat chronic pain and PTSD. Now VA tells us that it is monitoring smaller research projects on cannabis outside VA. This really is not sufficient. The bill directs VA to bring the important methodological rigor with a clinical trial framework to bear on these important questions. We owe our veterans no less.”
Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks proposed an amendment at the meeting in response. She proposed the replacement of HR-2916 with her own bill, HR-2932, which she calls the Veterans Cannabis Analysis Research and Effectiveness, or Veterans Care Act. Although she acknowledges that her and Correa’s bill share some goals, she believes Correa’s bill is not the ideal way to assist veterans. “…his bill takes an overly prescriptive approach to requiring the VA conduct research on medical marijuana,” she began. “I am sure that it is well-intentioned. However, what that would do is unfairly tie the hands of the VA researchers who are responsible for designing and conducting these studies and undermine their work to such an extent as to render it meaningless.”
“That is why my amendment, in the nature of a substitute, would replace the text of Congressman Correa’s bill, with the text of my bill which would also require VA to conduct research regarding medical marijuana but would also give VA researchers the flexibility to design that research for themselves,” Miller-Meeks continued. “This would help ensure that politics plays no role in the results of this research and that scientists and researchers, not politicians, inform the VA’s work on medicinal marijuana research so that it yields the best and most useful research results for veterans.”
Chairman Mark Takano stated that, “Unfortunately, I cannot support your amendment which would give VA far more leeway in determining how to study the possible use of cannabis and treating pain and PTSD and veterans,” Takano said. “With all due respect, VA could be doing that level of research now and simply has chosen not to. VA’s Office of Research and Development can absolutely handle a clinical trial. It already conducts many of them. And it’s time to bring the scientific weight of that gold standard approach to the issue of cannabis use.”
There was continued discussion on Miller-Meek’s bill by Ranking Member Mike Bost, but ultimately her bill was not agreed to by the committee. The committee did, however, agree to recommend HR-2916 to the House of Representatives for further consideration.