Update on Medical Cannabis for Veterans

As we recently noted in our last blog post, Senators Nelson and Schatz from Florida and Hawaii introduced The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.  The legislation provided our military veterans access to medical cannabis if they were found to be suffering from chronic pain, PTSD and other serious medical conditions, as well as funding clinical trial research within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

As quickly as it was introduced and actually approved in the Senate by a vote of 85-9, it was also quickly removed by a small handful of congressional leaders.  Leadership rejected the bi-partisan language entitled “Veterans Equal Access Amendment” which was contained in the 2019 fiscal Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.  As a result, physicians affiliated with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs remain prohibited from recommending marijuana in legal medical marijuana states. The amendment would have lifted this prohibition.

On the flip side of this coin is some good news.  The House Judiciary Committee recently approved the Medical Cannabis Research Act.  The Act opens the door to a more robust federal licensing process and if passed, would allow medical-grade cannabis to be grown for state-funded research.   Currently, only the University of Mississippi holds such a license.  The bill was introduced as a further step in seeking ways to counteract the opioid crisis and would provide for more in-depth research into potential benefits of a drug that has long been stigmatized.  The bill was sponsored by Florida House of Representatives Congressman Matthew Gaetz.

If the bill passes, Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be required to license two research facilities for cannabis cultivation within one year.  Every year after that, an additional three research facilities would be required to be licensed.  The bill would also allow health care providers of the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide recommendations to veterans to participate in federally-approved cannabis clinical trials.

As we can see, cannabis-based legislation continues to remain a quandary at the federal level, with various factions and groups each pushing their own agendas.  Medical providers, companies and insurers must stay vigilant to all the changes.

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