Veterans often suffer from conditions treatable with cannabis such as PTSD, pain, and anxiety. The government recognizes this and is trying to make cannabis more accessible for vets. They have passed a new senate cannabis bill for veterans to help them improve their quality of life.
Read on to find out more about the new senate cannabis bill for veterans and what it entails.
What is the New Senate Cannabis Bill for Veterans?
The U.S. Senate approved a bipartisan bill on Thursday that will promote marijuana research for military benefits. It is the first piece of standalone cannabis legislation to advance through a committee in the chamber.
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee did not have a quorum present to act on their behalf nor were other measures up for consideration during the scheduled markup morning meeting. Therefore, members approved the legislation in an informal “off the floor” session later in the day.
Also known as the VA Medical Cannabis Research Act, the new Senate Cannabis Bill is designed to mandate the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to research cannabis’ potential to aid with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain.
The bill was sponsored by panel Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK). The results were confirmed to Marijuana Moment by a Sullivan’s office staff member as they were not streamed live.
The new senate cannabis bill for veterans was passed two days after a House companion version was filed by Reps. Lou Correa (D-CA) and Jack Bergman (R-MI).
Changes to the New Senate Cannabis Bill for Veterans
The latest version of the bill was revised to give VA the freedom to determine if it’s capable of overseeing clinical trials on the use of marijuana for chronic pain and PTSD.
The revision may be a result of concerned VA officials who testified against earlier versions of the bill.
A previous version of the new senate cannabis bill for veterans cleared a House Committee in 2021 despite VA officials’ protests. Earlier iterations also moved through the committee in 2020 and 2018 although none were passed into law.
The bill has been revised to include a requirement for a retroactive observation study to look at the experiences of veterans who have used marijuana for PTSD and pain treatment in the past outside of clinical trials.
But critics have picked up on another change that may give the VA the ability to avoid fulfilling a key objective in clinical trials.
The VA would be required to submit a report to Congress within 90 days of completing an observational study on the effects of cannabis. The report would confirm whether the committee can carry out more robust clinical trials on cannabis’s effects.
“The Secretary may terminate the clinical trials… if the Secretary determines that the Department of Veterans Affairs is unable to meet clinical guideline requirements necessary to conduct such trials or if the clinical trials would create an excessive risk to the participant,” the bill goes on to state.
The VA has repeatedly spoken out against past versions of the new senate cannabis bill for veterans stating that the research mandate goes too far with many of its requirements. The revised bill will allow the VA to finish its qualitative observational study before deciding against carrying out the trial portion which would involve human subjects.
Other revisions include removing language that requires studies to examine at least seven cannabis varieties. That part would instead be left open-ended which will make it easier to address some of the VA’s prior concerns about the measure being overly prescriptive.
Possible Policy Moves Concerning the New Senate Bill for Veterans
Some political action within the Senate could affect how the new senate bill for veterans pans out. It may also affect other aspects of cannabis law.
For example, Rep. Correa had a conversation with VA Secretary Denis McDonough about marijuana and veterans so there were some expectations that the new senate bill for veterans might be reversed. That is yet to happen thus far.
A coalition of more than 20 veterans service organizations sent out a letter to congressional leaders late last year to urge the passage of the new senate bill for veterans before the end of the last Congress. That did not work out.
A large-scale defense bill that was enacted at the end of the last Congress session excluded separate language from a previously House-passed version that would have authorized VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis living in states where it was legal.
Advocates and stakeholders are looking out for policy moves from Capitol Hill which they think are likely due to political changes in dynamics as the Republicans take the majority in the House while Democrats retain control of the Senate.
Sen. Cory Booker (N-NJ) said that the ongoing issues with marijuana banking could lead to a cannabis crisis. While he thinks there’s a shot at reform, he also emphasized that several challenges would be faced before a change can be made.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) filed legislation last month which would protect military veterans from losing government benefits for using marijuana in compliance with state law. The bill he is introducing would enable VA doctors to discuss the potential risks and benefits of marijuana with their patients.
He also separately filed legislation to move marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a less restrictive Schedule II category.
Last month the White House was asked where President Joe Biden stands on marijuana banking reform with Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reporting that there are no current plans to resolve the issue.
Biden has voiced support for both the rescheduling of marijuana and marijuana research. He signed a marijuana research bill into law in December. In doing so, he made history by enacting the first piece of standalone federal cannabis reform legislation in U.S. history.