Congressional Lawmakers Approve GOP-Led Marijuana And Psychedelics Bills Focused On Veterans

April 16, 2024 · Marijuana Moment

A congressional committee has approved a pair of GOP-led marijuana and psychedelics bills focused on military veterans’ access.

About a month after the House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee held an initial hearing on the legislation, members passed both proposals as part of an en bloc package with other measures under unanimous consent on Tuesday.

The medical cannabis measure, sponsored by the subcommittee chair Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA), is titled the Veterans Cannabis Analysis, Research, and Effectiveness (CARE) Act.

“My bill proposes research on non-opioid pain relief options for veterans with chronic pain and PTSD,” Miller-Meeks told colleagues ahead of the vote. “I want to emphasize that this bill is intended solely for research purposes. Gathering more data will enhance our ability to effectively treat our veterans.”

The proposal would require VA to “conduct and support research relating to the efficacy and safety of forms of cannabis” for chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and “other conditions the Secretary determines appropriate.”

The legislation specifies that the VA studies must involve plants and extracts, at least three varieties of cannabis with different concentrations of THC and CBD and “varying methods of cannabis delivery, including topical application, combustable and non-combustable inhalation, and ingestion.”

VA would first have to submit a research plan to House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees and make any requests to support the studies. Over the course of five years after the bill is enacted, VA would need to send annual reports on its progress to the panels.

At last month’s hearing, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) voiced support for the bill on the condition that certain amendments were made. While the panel didn’t make any changes ahead of the vote on Tuesday, members said they may consider amendments if the legislation is taken up by the full Veterans’ Affairs Committee at a later date.

The measure as drafted is identical to an earlier bill Miller-Meeks sponsored last Congress. On the Senate side, a committee approved a separate bill last February to promote research into the therapeutic effects of marijuana for military veterans with certain conditions. However, Senate Republicans blocked a procedural motion to advance it to the floor.

Meanwhile, the psychedelics bill from Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-WI) would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to notify Congress if any psychedelics are added to its formulary of covered prescription drugs.

“I’m going to stress that what the veterans administration is doing is not working in preventing veteran suicide,” Van Orden said. “We can quantify that. We have numbers, we have widows, we have widowers, we have kids without parents because they’ve committed suicide as a direct result of their service to our nation.”

“We’re able to sit here and have this committee in peace because men and women are standing overseas protecting our lives, and we owe it to them. We just owe it to them,” he said. “And I’ll be honest with you—I’ve said this before—I am not fully sold on the psychedelic things. They are a therapeutic tool, and I’m not completely sold on it. But I’m unwilling to go to another damn funeral because we didn’t try everything we could.”

The bill states that VA must report to Congress on the addition of any psychedelic medicines to its formulary within 180 days of their federal approval by Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The report would need to include “the determination of the Secretary whether to include such drug in the formulary of the Department,” as well as “the justification of the Secretary for such determination,” the bill text says.

Rep. Jack Bergman (D-MI), co-chair of the Congressional Psychedelics Advancing Clinical Treatments (PACT) Caucus, spoke in favor of the proposal, stating that such “therapies have a huge potential to help us address the mental health and suicide crisis among our veterans, and any VA red tape that delays a formulary decision could cost lives.”

VA came out against the psychedelics bill that the committee approved, arguing that it’s “unnecessary.”

Currently, there are no psychedelic drugs that are federally approved to prescribe as medicine. But that could soon change, as FDA recently agreed to review a new drug application for MDMA-assisted therapy on an expedited basis. The agency has also designated psilocybin, and more recently an LSD-like compound, as “breakthrough therapies.”

In January, VA separately issued a request for applications to conduct in-depth research on the use of psychedelics to treat PTSD and depression.

Van Orden, who filed the psychedelics bill, is also a co-sponsor of a bipartisan measure to provide funding to the Department of Defense (DOD) to conduct clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics for active duty military members. That reform was signed into law by President Joe Biden under an amendment attached to the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Last month, congressional appropriations leaders also unveiled a spending package that contains language providing $10 million to facilitate the psychedelics studies.

In a floor speech last year, Miller-Meeks, the subcommittee chair, talked about the need to support “novel forms of research” to unlock the potential of psychedelics and cannabis for the treatment of conditions like PTSD that commonly afflict veterans.

She also touted first-ever FDA guidance on psychedelics research that she separately requested in a bill filed last year alongside Reps. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) and Ro Khanna (D-CA). (Full Story)

In categories:Politics Veterans
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