WASHINGTON -- House lawmakers took a step forward Tuesday to push the Department of Veterans Affairs to research the safety and effectiveness of medical marijuana.
The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs voted unanimously to advance the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act to the House floor -- a bipartisan attempt to encourage the VA to study the drug as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and other ailments that disproportionately affect veterans. The bill stops short of mandating the VA research marijuana but makes clear that the VA can study it. It also requires the agency to report back to Congress about its progress.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the committee chairman, said the VA needs to explore marijuana and other possible alternatives to addictive opioids.
"I'm keenly aware of need for VA to critically examine possible new treatments that could benefit veteran patients," he said. "Like many of us on this dais, I've heard from many veterans who believe medical cannabis can help them lead healthy lives. Right now, we don't know if that's true or not, and that's why we believe the VA should conduct rigorous research on medical cannabis just like any other medication or treatment."
Because marijuana is classified among Schedule 1 drugs, which are defined as having no medical use, federal research is highly restricted.
When lawmakers introduced the bill in April, they argued the VA is in the best position to research medical marijuana, given its history of medical advancements, vast resources and access to patients who struggle with PTSD and chronic pain.
Eric Goepel with the Veterans Cannabis Coalition said the bill has little immediate impact for veterans, though it is a "necessary first step." The coalition advocates for increased access to medical marijuana.
Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the House committee, is running for governor in his state in November. He cited the bill as one initiative that he wants to see through by then.
"Even if you don't think cannabis is useful, our veterans deserve to know for sure," he said.