Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jan. 19
Veterans Affairs should move ahead with marijuana research
Mankato psychologist George Komaridis has worked with returning veterans since the Vietnam War. He has listened to multiple generations’ nightmares and has done his best to help vets recover from physical wounds and emotional trauma.
But Komaridis also knows that there are some who traditional therapy and medications just can’t reach. “There is pain they can’t tolerate, and they’re going to do something because the pain is too much,” he said. That extra step has long involved alcohol, but today, it often means relying on marijuana. A recent American Legion survey showed that about one-fifth of veterans nationwide use cannabis for medical reasons - suggesting that modern treatments aren’t working for far too many.
Those who served deserve nothing less than a nation that explores every option to heal them on the homefront. That’s why the recent correspondence between Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., inspires outrage. Shulkin, according to letters exchanged, declined the commendable request from Walz and nine other House members to wield the massive resources of this specialized medical system to investigate whether cannabis could help treat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or chronic pain.
It hardly seems too much to ask, especially when the American Legion is also advocating for this research. This respected organization recognizes that veterans are not getting the help they need. According to VA stats, “veterans accounted for 18 percent of all deaths by suicide among U.S. adults, while veterans constituted 8.5 percent of the U.S. population.” The VA, which got a public-relations black eye for recklessly dispensing opioid painkillers, ought to see cannabis research as important to rebuild trust.
To be clear, no one is asking the agency to casually hand out cannabis. The Oct. 26 letter from Walz and the other House members asks the VA to “conduct and examine” research into medical marijuana’s potential use in treating post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. (In Minnesota, medical marijuana can be used for PTSD and “intractable pain.”) The letter also notes that the VA is “uniquely situated” to do the research, given its world-class doctors and the patients it serves.
Shulkin’s Dec. 21 reply to Walz is disingenuous. In declining to pursue the research, Shulkin said he is restricted by federal law. But an independent expert from the respected Brookings Institution recently slammed Shulkin’s reasoning, saying that researchers at the VA or its hospitals can do this research and remain compliant with federal law. Yes, there are additional hoops to jump through, but it can be done.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board shares Walz’s concerns that pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice, where Attorney General Jeff Sessions has antiquated notions about marijuana, may have made Shulkin skittish about acting without congressional direction. But getting Congress to pass a bill to make this happen will take time.
Research could provide more detailed answers about medical marijuana’s benefits - or lack thereof - for veterans and provide best-practice guidelines for use. This information is sorely needed and shouldn’t be delayed because Shulkin lacks the backbone to have his agency do it.
Mankato Free Press, Jan. 21
Not too late to for a healthier year
It could be that your resolution to lose weight and be healthier got tossed out with the last empty bag of Reese’s Bells.
Don’t despair. Improving your health doesn’t have to be tied to New Year’s. We’re only entering the fourth week of 2018 and any day is a good day to evaluate how to make your life better. For one thing, as temperatures begin to moderate and we gain more sunlight every day, it will be less challenging to move around outside.
A benefit to tackling better habits these days is that the information keeps getting better. Successful weight management no longer means starving yourself, frequently “cleansing” or only drinking protein shakes. As more studies reveal how moderation and mindful eating (vegetables, vegetables, vegetables) are key, it’s clear that complete denial of real food is not a long-lasting strategy.
For many, a healthier lifestyle means more focus on better food choices more often, portion-size awareness, regular exercise, and use of easy-to-use tools that help track calories and exercise. Achieving optimum health is about adapting a smarter lifestyle, not jumping from one fad diet to another.
The percentage of adults age 20 and older who are overweight or obese is 70.7 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With the growth of obesity and type 2 diabetes and the complications that go with those conditions, figuring out a plan to scale back weight gain can have measurable health benefits.
As with any dramatic change in routine when it comes to health, talking to medical professionals is advised. Dietitians and nutritionists have specialized training in food science and can help people develop individualized plans. They also offer general advice through a number of mediums, including a regular column in this newspaper.
Getting discouraged is natural when it comes to discarding bad habits and adapting good ones. It takes time and patience. That’s why having a support system can be so helpful, whether that means an online app that encourages you with email when you log exercise minutes or record calories, doing morning walks with a friend, or joining a group or class that has similar goals.
You don’t have to tackle your objective alone. And put down that clearance bag of holiday candy - or at least share it with as many people as possible so your portion size is realistic.
Why it matters:
Health improvements are a long-term goal, not a problem to quickly solve.
St. Paul Pioneer Press, Jan. 21
Start here: Don’t raise Minnesota taxes
Let’s be clear at the outset, state lawmakers: A tax increase on Minnesotans now is unacceptable.
But it could happen, the Minnesota Department of Revenue suggests, based on a preliminary estimate of the impact of recently passed federal tax changes.
According to the projection - and without any change in state tax policy - Minnesota revenue collections would increase by about $850 million in the current 2018-19 budget cycle and by $1.5 billion in the next two-year biennium.
Senate Taxes Committee Chair Roger Chamberlain, a Republican from Lino Lakes, offered assurances in a conversation last week. “A tax increase is not acceptable. Absolutely not,” he told us, noting that he will not “do anything that will increase the tax burden on Minnesotans.”
But the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence has described the work that awaits state tax committees as a “once-a-generation” challenge.
At a time of deep political division, policymakers will face fundamental questions about tax fairness and the state’s competitiveness. And the debate will take place in an election year, when the governor’s office and control of the state House of Representatives are in play. “Nobody of any political party wants really frustrated, angry taxpayers at filing time,” the center’s Mark Haveman told us.
Legislators no doubt will be mindful that their work on tax policy last year ended up before the state Supreme Court in a power struggle between branches of government.
Add to that mix concern about the urgency with which lawmakers should act.
“As difficult as it would be,” Haveman said, the work “needs to be accomplished this session. It’s preposterous to think (it) could be crammed into” the first weeks of the 2019 session. At that point, Minnesotans will be beginning to file their first returns under the new law.
His advice for lawmakers? “Buckle up.” Take seriously that “Minnesota’s response to these federal changes is vital” and be thoughtful on “all the different dimensions that need to be addressed.”
Central to the discussion is that Minnesota is one of only six states that use federal taxable income as a starting point for filers. That could result in some - including large families that benefited from previous deductions - paying more. The loss of personal and dependent exemptions and resulting increase in taxable income under the new law will have the biggest impact on state income tax filers, a blog post from Haveman’s organization says.
The situation “ups the ante,” he said, “with respect to figuring out what to do and how to go about it.”
If lawmakers do nothing, in addition to the big jumps in state revenue, Minnesotans reportedly would be left with state filings so complex that the result would be a bonanza for tax accountants.
Legislators typically deal relatively smoothly with bringing state tax code into “conformity” with federal provisions. Haveman notes bipartisan support in most sessions for a federal conformity bill that often passes in the first few weeks.
But this time the changes are far from routine.
“Policymakers are going to need to dig in” and figure out which of the federal tax law changes it makes sense to incorporate into Minnesota tax codes and which it doesn’t, explains Nan Madden, director of the liberal-leaning Minnesota Budget Project group.
“It’s a pretty complex web to try to understand who benefits and who will be impacted by various provisions and how they intersect,” she told us.
Chamberlain acknowledges that the task ahead is both complex and historic. “We are going to be as thorough and complete as we can with the review, evaluation and analysis,” he told us. “We are not going to make rash decisions.”
He also said he “would like to see it happen this session.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Ann Rest of New Hope, ranking Democrat on the taxes committee and one of the few legislators likely to actually understand the complexities of this tax law, warns that it’s not possible to talk about tax reform in sound bites.
She expresses concern about whether the deficit reported in the state’s November economic forecast will persist and about the impact of tax breaks that might be made in conforming to the federal changes.
She urges caution and describes a move to “quick conformity” as “foolishness.”
“We have the time to take our time,” Rest said. “We would be remiss if we didn’t go slowly.”
Yes, be careful, lawmakers, but get this sorted out. By no means should the impact of federal tax reform on Minnesotans be higher state taxes. Clarity on that should be the starting point.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.