The health subcommittee of the Veterans Affairs heard testimony on three medical cannabis bills, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2019 (H.R. 712), Veterans Cannabis Use for Safe Healing Act (H.R. 2191), and The Veterans Equal Access Act (H.R. 1647). This trio of bills will greatly improve medical cannabis access for veterans. These bills, while opposed by the VA were supported by many Veterans Service Organizations including the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veterans. This hearing marks the first non-appropriations sub-committee hearing on the issue of veterans medical cannabis access of the 116th Congress.
The Veterans Equal Access Act allows Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to help veteran patients fill out medical cannabis enrollment paperwork in states with a medical cannabis program. The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act directs the Secretary of the VA to carry out clinical trials on the effects of cannabis on health conditions prevalent in the veteran community, including chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Veterans Cannabis Use for Safe Healing Act prohibits the VA from denying benefits to a veteran who is participating in a state approved medical cannabis program. According to a poll conducted by the American Legion, 92% of all veterans support research into medical cannabis and 83% of veterans support legalizing medical cannabis. IAVA conducted a similar poll showing that 83% of its members also support the legalization of medical cannabis.
“As the largest healthcare provider in the country, the VA must adopt policies to appropriately serve the needs of the veteran community, especially when it comes to providing access to medical cannabis,” said David Mangone, Director of Government Affairs of Americans for Safe Access.“After returning from war, America’s heroes are faced with another battle at home against pills and suicide, and this trio of medical cannabis bills would give them the tools they need to help win this battle by providing less dangerous, non-addictive methods for symptom management.”
The Veterans Affairs healthcare system serves over 9 million veterans. Veterans can not currently participate in state legal cannabis programs if they receive their care through the VA. Opioid overdoses among veterans is almost twice the national average. States with medical cannabis programs have seen a 24.8% reduction in opioid overdose deaths.