Congress Considers Medical Cannabis for Veterans… Again

April 2023 was a busy month for marijuana reform legislation in Washington. Lawmakers from both sides of the political isle have been introducing a flurry of legislation in hopes of scoring political points ahead of the unofficial 4/20 holiday. One such bill seeks to legalize medical cannabis for veterans.

The bill is just the latest in a long-standing attempt to give veterans access to medical cannabis to treat things like chronic pain and PTSD. Three similar bills have been introduced in years past, but none of them came to fruition. Will the fourth time be the charm?

Medical Cannabis at the State Level

Should the current legislation make it past the House, Senate, and Present’s desk, it would temporarily make medical cannabis available to veterans pursuant to state regulations. In other words, a VA doctor practicing in a state with legal medical cannabis could recommend it to a patient suffering from a qualifying condition. Doctors in states where medical cannabis is still banned could not make any such recommendations regardless of patient health.

Qualifying conditions could make a significant impact at the state level simply because each state maintains its own list. According to the operators of the Beehive Farmacy near Logan, UT, the Beehive State includes both PTSD and chronic pain on its qualifying conditions list. These are the two most common complaints for which veterans seek medical cannabis, so passage of the bill would help veterans living in Utah. That may not be the case in other states.

The Bill Encourages Research

Another important facet of the bill is the way it encourages medical cannabis research. Previous iterations of the legislation would have directed the Veterans Administration to conduct studies into cannabis’ efficacy as a pain and PTSD treatment. The current bill relies on different language.

Rather than directly mandating in-house VA research, the new bill directs the VA to “support clinical research.” How such support would manifest itself remains to be seen. It could lead to the administration funding clinical research. It could lead to direct research at VA clinics. It could mean the VA partnering with universities and private research organizations to study medical cannabis.

Getting the VA On Board

Getting the VA on board with research would be another step in forcing Washington’s hand on the whole legalization question. Right now, lawmakers are looking at three possibilities for marijuana reform:

  • Decriminalization – Decriminalization would not legalize marijuana. It would simply eliminate the prosecution of marijuana crimes and any punishments attached to them. Essentially, decriminalization would amount to codifying the federal practice of turning a blind eye.
  • Legalization – Marijuana legalization would do just as its name implies. It would make marijuana legal to grow, distribute, possess, and use. Legalization would put marijuana on the same plane as alcohol.
  • Rescheduling – Congress could choose to reschedule marijuana. Doing so would open the door to legal medical cannabis nationwide while still allowing the government to maintain its stand against recreational consumption.

A compelling case can be made for all three options. Given the inevitability of some sort of reform, the big question is which option wins in the end. The safe money prefers an incremental approach: rescheduling for now with full legalization in the future. But who knows? Lawmakers are never predictable when it comes to hot topics like this.

For now, it is enough to know that Congress is once again considering granting access to medical cannabis through VA clinics. If the current bill does make it to the President’s desk, his signature will mark a watershed moment for cannabis advocacy in America.