Many of the ailments and health challenges that affect veterans share one trait in common: Medical marijuana is emerging as a treatment for symptoms. Time and again, veterans groups have proven open to the idea of studying this substance further in the hopes of addressing some of the most persistent maladies and risks facing their membership. But the Justice Department seems to be in no hurry to ease legalization.
Sessions’ Announcement Clouds the Picture
States around the country are becoming more open to cannabis use, sometimes going beyond medical applications and allowing retail sales. This new openness, however, hasn’t spread to the U.S. Justice Department yet, which could be problematic for medical marijuana proponents, including vets. Stars and Stripes noted the negative veteran reaction to a January pronouncement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions rolled back a policy from the Obama era that kept the federal government from getting involved in marijuana enforcement when states legalize it.
Vet cannabis advocacy groups, such as Weed for Warriors, were quick to respond to the Sessions announcement. Many are willing to continue the legal fight for acceptance of medical marijuana. Such groups have long been involved in the struggle to roll back anticannabis laws, and many leaders see the latest policy change as a politically motivated pivot that will harm patients.
Fortunately for medical marijuana proponents, the Sessions announcement may lead to further legislation. Vaguely rolling back the Obama-era hands-off policy has left a void of hard-and-fast rules for federal marijuana law enforcement. The Congressional Cannabis Caucus is mobilizing and will attempt to take this opportunity to get laws on the books that will allow states to have the final say as to what is allowed.
VA States No Research Will Go On
While the legal battle over enforcement rages on, the Department of Veterans Affairs is in legal limbo regarding cannabis. The organization’s inability to contradict federal laws has left it in an uncomfortable position. On one hand, VA doctors can now discuss medical marijuana use openly with patients, The Washington Post reported in January. This is a change in policy that frees veterans up to discuss options that were once off limits. On the other hand, doctors can’t refer their patients to state programs that offer marijuana. Furthermore, the VA can’t perform research on the potential benefits of cannabis.
John Hudak, director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution, told The Washington Post there are federal regulations that allow groups to perform medical research, even when the substances being tested are illegal. He stated that the VA’s refusal to commit to such tests is “a cop out.” VA Secretary David Shulkin has nevertheless tied his agency’s stance on cannabis to federal regulations.
A widely reported American Legion survey from late 2017 tells why these stonewall tactics are so frustrating: 83 percent of veteran households support the legalization of medical cannabis and 92 percent want there to be research on the substance’s potential benefits.