Rhode Island’s top lawmaker expects marijuana legalization bill to pass “overwhelming majority” by February

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A bill requiring the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct clinical trials on the therapeutic potential of marijuana for military veterans would have negligible fiscal impact, according to a new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

However, just like when the agency released its latest analysis of the costs of an earlier version of the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act in 2020, the CBO highlighted VA’s ongoing cannabis studies and said it “expects these efforts to meet the research requirements of the bill,” although it is not clear that this actually is the case.

The bill, sponsored by Representative Lou Correa (D-CA), cleared the House Veterans Affairs Committee for the third time last month. Earlier versions of the measure were approved by the panel in 2020 and 2018, but were not promulgated.

It would force the ministry to launch a series of studies on the use of medical marijuana to treat PTSD and chronic pain.

While VA has expressed opposition to the reform proposal – along with other modest cannabis and veterans legislation – because it says the measure is too prescriptive, the CBO suggested in its published analysis Tuesday that the department has already taken the basic steps to implement.

Specifically, he highlighted “several studies examining the risks and benefits of using cannabis to treat PTSD and chronic pain” that VA approved.

The one that was previously referenced in the CBO score of the previous bill assesses the “effects of medical cannabis use in 136 participants with PTSD and other health problems.” However, the text of the legislation itself indicates that the current study not meet its research requirements, for several reasons.

First, the cited study only covers post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The bill requires the VA to conduct clinical trials not only on PTSD, but also specifically on chronic pain as well as “other conditions.”

Second, the bill provides for studies of several forms and varieties of cannabis. The CBO study pointed out that it looks exclusively at synthetic CBD.

Congressional researchers noted that there is “another cannabis intervention study focused on chronic diabetic neuropathic pain” that VA recently approved. Participants will begin to be enrolled in this study from January 2022, according to the report.

“The CBO expects these efforts to meet the research requirements of the bill,” he said, although it is not clear which pain test the office is referring to, or whether it would in fact include the multiple varieties of marijuana required by law.

The CBO said it would cost less than $ 500,000 between 2022 and 2026 for VA to comply with the additional reporting requirements included in the bill. “Such expenditure would be subject to the availability of appropriate funds,” says the analysis.


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The text of the bill states that the VA secretary “will conduct a series of clinical trials on the effects of medical grade cannabis on the health outcomes of Covered Veterans diagnosed with chronic pain and Covered Veterans diagnosed with chronic pain. post-traumatic stress. “

It lists both the “required items” of the tests and the “optional items”. Regarding chronic pain trials, the agency is expected to review the impact of marijuana use on osteopathic pain, opioid use and dosage, benzodiazepine use and dosage, consumption alcohol, inflammation, quality of sleep, restlessness and quality of life.

For studies specific to PTSD, VA would examine how cannabis affects basic disease symptoms, benzodiazepine use and dosage, alcohol use, mood, anxiety, social functioning, restlessness, suicidal ideation and quality of sleep.

Optionally, clinical trials “may include an evaluation of the effects of the use of cannabis to treat chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder on” lung function, cardiovascular events, various forms of cancer, intestinal inflammation. , traffic accidents, mania, psychosis, cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, neuropathy or spasticity.

The bill further details the specific methodological standards of the clinical trials that would be required. It would, for example, require researchers to use “no less than seven unique plant cultivars” with specific ratios of THC and CBD, and says the trials will involve “whole plant raw materials and extracts.”

In addition to his stand-alone bill, Correa separately proposed requiring cannabis studies in the VA as an amendment to a defense bill that passed the House in September. But he withdrew it before a House Rules Committee hearing.

In June, a Senate committee held a hearing on a bill similarly requiring the department to conduct clinical trials on the therapeutic potential of marijuana for military veterans with PTSD and chronic pain, but a representative from VA said the Biden administration opposed the reform. The Senate committee has yet to vote on its version of the legislation.

At the last Congress in 2019, President Donald Trump’s VA also spoke out against a series of bills designed to protect the benefits of veterans who use marijuana, allowing doctors in the department to recommend medical cannabis. and expand research on the therapeutic potential of the plant. .

In 2018, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee was the first congressional panel to approve a marijuana reform bill by passing an earlier version of the legislation to encourage VA to conduct research into the medical benefits of cannabis.

Despite VA’s overt opposition to various marijuana reform proposals in the past, a department official recently said he was following research on the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics like MDMA for veterans “very closely”. military.

Earlier this year, a bipartisan coalition of congressional lawmakers reintroduced bills that would federally legalize medical cannabis for military veterans.

Representative Greg Steube (R-FL) presented a proposal in January to ensure that military veterans are not penalized for using medical cannabis in accordance with state law. It would also codify that VA doctors are allowed to discuss the risks and benefits of marijuana with their patients.

VA physicians are currently permitted to discuss cannabis with patients and document their use in medical records, and these veteran patients are already protected by agency policy against losing their benefits for using marijuana, but the bill would enshrine these policies in federal law so that they cannot be administratively changed in the future.

A US Army veteran who was deported to Jamaica on a marijuana conviction was recently cleared into the country following a concerted request for help from members of Congress.

Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Mark Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the head of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in July asking him to reopen the case .

Thirty members of the Congressional Black Caucus have separately urged the Biden administration to reopen some deportation cases, including those involving cannabis.

Iowa Democrats announce plan to let voters decide on marijuana legalization amid GOP resistance

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side pocket images.

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