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Bill legalizing marijuana clears house panel; could permit VA to recommend use for veterans

A marijuana plant is shown in this undated file photo.

RANDALL BENTON, SACRAMENTO BEE/TNS

By STEVE BEYNON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 21, 2019

WASHINGTON — A House panel approved a historic effort to legalize marijuana, which could pave the way for the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend cannabis use to its patients. 

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, also known as the MORE Act. The measure passed 24-10 and now moves to the full House for a vote. 

"I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake, and the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake," Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the committee's chairman, said in a statement. "While states have led the way in reform, our federal laws have not kept pace with the obvious need for change.”

The MORE Act would remove marijuana from Schedule I, which classifies it in the same group as heroin, and federally decriminalizes it — leaving it to the states to regulate marijuana. It also includes a 5% tax on cannabis products to go towards minority communities hit hard by marijuana prohibition.

According to VA policy, veterans will not be denied benefits if they use cannabis but it’s still against the VA’s policy to recommend use, prescribe or pay for in any capacity. However, federal legalization could change that and allow the VA to conduct research on how marijuana could be used by veterans to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. Troops are still forbidden from using recreational or medical marijuana regardless of a state’s laws where they serve due to the federal ban. 

In an interview with C-Span two weeks ago, David Shulkin, who was secretary of the VA from February 2017 to March 2018, said marijuana could be a critical tool for veterans — especially with combating suicide. 

“The VA, I believe, should be involved and should be open to research for anything that will help veterans improve their lives, including medical cannabis,” Shulkin said. “That’s different than recreational cannabis, but to ignore the benefits of this I think is at the peril of veterans, especially with the crisis of suicides that we’ve talked about.”

In January, Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, the top Republican on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced a bill directing the VA to research medicinal cannabis. 

“One of the most critical duties of Congress is ensuring that we provide the proper services and support for veterans with service-related disabilities,” Roe said in a statement. “While data remains limited, surveys have shown that some veterans already use medicinal cannabis as a means to help with post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things.”

Beynon.Steven@Stripes.com
Twitter: @StevenBeynon
 

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