BY AARON PELLEY ● JULY 23, 2023
In the decade since Colorado and Washington legalized cannabis for recreational purposes and dozens of further states have legalized for medical purposes, the political climate behind cannabis has shifted drastically. As a far cry from the previous views of the political party, medical cannabis has been authorized in states as deeply red as Mississippi and younger conservatives are coming out in support of cannabis reform in droves. There are a countless number of veterans who’ve essentially regained their lives with medical cannabis and a good amount of them certainly lean more politically conservative. The prohibitionist mindset may still be alive and thriving among the older echelon of the Republican Party but some of the party’s rising stars are crafting or supporting pieces of legislation that would greatly reform current cannabis law and expand medical access.
Only a few weeks ago, The House Armed Services Committee approved amendments in an omnibus-sized defense bill to secure funding to research and a “pilot program” to properly study the effects of medical cannabis and psychedelics. Due to the strictness of the laws surrounding the Controlled Substances List, much of that necessary medical cannabis research is prohibited by law.
Led by two Republican representatives, Nancy Mace of South Carolina and Morgan Luttrell of Texas, the language was included in the massive National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which dictates the annual budget of the Department of Defense. As it’s a piece of legislation that must be annually approved by Congress, Mace and Luttrell’s inclusion of that language came at a very opportune time.
The amendments added to the bill are multi-faceted yet could provide groundbreaking research into the potential medical benefits of both cannabis and psychedelics that is still desperately needed. Given that Congressman Luttrell is a Navy veteran who served for 14 years and his twin brother is Marcus Luttrell, who’s harrowing story of fighting in Afghanistan was made into the Mark Wahlberg movie “Lone Survivor”, the large inclusion of veterans in the language and requirements of these amendments shouldn’t be surprising. And with veterans from all branches becoming steadfast cannabis activists in their own right, these amendments could be incredibly beneficial for the overall health of veterans.
Per the legislation, the pilot program will be very inclusive towards veterans receiving VA benefits. Veterans of all branches, including the Space Force, will be the main demographic that will be involved in the pilot program and the resulting clinical study will only work with service members with either post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The program must be conducted in one or more states with either medically or recreationally legal cannabis and those states must publish relevant data collected by state medical cannabis programs.
Another major element of the legislation is that the expansive clinical study focused directly on veterans will include the four most popular substances who’s medical efficacy certainly needs further medical research. Psilocybin, MDMA, ibogaine and dimethyltryptamine (DMT) will all be included in this
Perhaps this is a new chapter and a foreshadowing of how younger conservative representatives vote and legislate on drug reform policies. The amendments about research on cannabis and psychedelics being added by two Republican members of Congress is surprising because of how far off they broke from party lines in regards to drug policy. The amendments are monumental because unlike cannabis, the legislation guarantees the safety and intactness of federally regulated VA benefits.
“The eligibility or entitlement of a covered individual to any other benefit under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs or any other provision of law shall not be affected by the participation of the covered individual in the pilot program.” the legislation ensures.
There’s a crucially important provision that Mace and Luttrell have added to the amendment that acts as an annual requirement but one that could continuously showcase the medical benefits of these natural plants. Within 90 days of the implementation of this legislation, the clinical study that will gather research that will be submitted to the Legislature must begin.
“Not later than one year after the date on which the pilot program commences,” the legislation reads, “and annually thereafter for the duration of the pilot program, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report on the conduct of the pilot program. If the Secretary of Defense determines it appropriate, the Secretary may renew the pilot program for a single additional five-year period following the date of termination under paragraph.”
We are cautiously optimistic that the new research, and the mountain of evidence that is available from other countries, will turn the tide on the oppressive laws preventing these drugs from improving the lives of millions.