Proposed legislation to help veterans access medical cannabis opposed by Trump administration

Earlier this week Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon sent out word to his supporters about his testimony in front of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health in regards to legislation to help veterans with easier access to medical cannabis. The Veterans Equal Access Act, HR 1647, sponsored by Blumenauer seeks to end the policy that prohibits VA healthcare providers from helping the men and women who served from obtaining a state-level medical cannabis recommendation.

“This is the first time we’ve had a hearing like this with a substantive committee,” Blumenauer told the committee. “One of the great tragedies of our time is the failure to adequately address the needs of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan… An overwhelming number of veterans tell me that cannabis has reduced PTSD symptoms [and] the dependency on addictive opioids.”

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However, according to a recent report in Marijuana Moment, officials from the Trump administration attended the hearing in opposition to the bill and others like it. Keita Franklin, national director of suicide prevention in the VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention called them “risky,” telling the committee the office was following guidance it received from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“Any trial with human subjects must include an evaluation of the risks and safety and include the smallest number of participants to avoid putting subjects at increased risk unnecessarily so,” she said, according to the report. “For these reasons, we don’t support this proposed legislation.”

Franklin continued, talking about the divide between the VA and veterans on the issue.

“We’ve got a couple of bills before us, which I think are good bills. And the VA doesn’t support those bills,” she said, according to Marijuana Moment. “We have [veteran services organizations] speaking in favor of these bills. This seems to be an issue that has been going on now for a while—this schism between what the VA believes and what the VSOs want.”

“This is a big frustration for me because I think it’s overwhelmingly clear amongst the American people and amongst our veterans across the country that this is an issue that they are keenly interested in and want to have access to,” she said. “I guess my question is, how are we going to reconcile this?”

Although President Trump has said in the past he would sign legislation to legalize marijuana should it cross his desk, his actions have been that of a strict cannabis prohibitionist — starting with the appointment of Jeff Sessions as his attorney general in 2017. Sessions famously repealed the Obama-era protections for legalized cannabis at the state level known as the “Cole memorandum.”

Although Trump had control of Congress for his first two years in office, he made no moves to push the issue.

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“We’re not I think in a position here to protect the VA physicians who want to disperse or prescribe cannabis unless we change that law,” Rep. Neal Dunn said, according to the report. “So we might be looking at the wrong leverage point when we address these laws without addressing the scheduling of the drug.”

(Photo: Earl Blumeneauer/NORML)
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