- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Trump administration has taken a stance against three separate medical marijuana bills being considered by members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Testifying on Tuesday before the House panel’s Subcommittee on Health, officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs said the agency opposes each of the bills – the Veterans Equal Access Act, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act and the Veterans Cannabis Use for Safe Healing Act.

Offered in response to marijuana being federally prohibited but legalized for medicinal purposes in most states, each of the bills addresses related conflicts currently affecting the VA and its vast network of government-controlled hospitals and physicians: the Veterans Equal Access Act would require the agency to conduct clinical trials to research the potential benefits of pot on vets suffering from certain medical conditions, while both of the other proposals would allow VA doctors to legally recommend the plant in accordance with state law to patients seeking treatment.

Dr. Keita Franklin, national director of suicide prevention for the department’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, testified that the bill requiring the agency to conduct clinical marijuana tests was too ambitious to garner the VA’s support.

“Any trial with human subjects must include an evaluation of the risks and safety and include the smallest number of participants to avoid putting subjects at increased risk unnecessarily so,” she said. “For these reasons, we don’t support this proposed legislation.”

The VA opposes letting its doctors recommend medical marijuana to vets because the plant remains federally outlawed given its status as a Schedule 1 drug under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, she testified.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration “advised VA that no provision of the Controlled Substances Act would be exempt from criminal sanctions as a VA physician who acts with intent to provide a patient with means to obtain marijuana,” she said.

“As long as cannabis or marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, then we are going to look to the DEA and the Department of Justice to give us their opinion on what our prescribers are able to do,” added Larry Mole, chief consultant for the VA’s Population Health department.

“DEA has taken no stance on any of these pieces of legislation,” a department spokesperson told The Washington Times when reached for comment.

Thirty-three states have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana to varying degrees, including 10 that have separately legalized recreational use among adults.

Several bills pending on Capitol Hill would effectively end the federal prohibition on marijuana if passed by either removing or recategorizing the plant from its current placement under the Controlled Substances Act.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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