Rep. Seth Moulton: My VA-Marijuana Bills Can Pass, After Similar Bills Fail

Opinion-editorial By Brit Smith, host of Blunt Talk

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) -- This week, amid a bustling Presidential race, Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton took time to talk to me about three bills he just reintroduced that focus on changing Medical Marijuana policy at the VA.

Moulton wants to see change in three areas:

HR 2675: For Veterans to be allowed to discuss their cannabis use with their VA doctor without fear of losing their earned benefits.

HR 2676: For the VA to partner with a federally-funded research partner to study the impact of cannabis on veterans’ health, and send that study to Congress.

HR 2677: For VA Primary Care Physicians to learn about the science of medical marijuana by partnering with medical schools that have a cannabis curriculum.

While these may seem like lofty goals, Rep. Moulton, a USMC combat veteran, says studying and bettering veterans’ healthcare is a “bipartisan issue” that he expects to garner wide support. He’s already got Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz to sign on.

But while researching other recent similar bills, I turned up some worrying results:

Just a few weeks before Moulton reintroduced his bills, three very similar bills were rejected by the VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.

First, there was the bill from Florida Republican Rep. Gregory Steube that was asking for the same thing Moulton wants; for the law to say vets can discuss cannabis use with their VA doctors without losing benefits.

At a House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee meeting in April, the Director of the VA’s Office on Suicide Prevention, Dr. Keita Franklin rejected Steube’s bill, saying it’s already VA policy that vets can discuss cannabis use with their VA doctors without backlash.

So I put it to Congressman Moulton; “The VA has said their policy is; you’re already allowed them to speak to your VA doctor about cannabis use.”

But Moulton says that policy is not the same across the nation, and it’s not enough. He wants to codify it into law.

“That’s what the VA says, at least officially. But that’s not what a lot of veterans hear when they actually go there in person. And so we want to make it abundantly clear, not just from a VA policy directive, but from lawmakers here in Congress, that it is perfectly fine for veterans to have this discussion.”

Moulton wants the VA to research and educate its doctors on marijuana science

Second; there was a bill from California Democrat Lou Correa, that would have tasked the VA with conducting advanced medical research trials on the effects on cannabis for chronic pain and PTSD, especially as it relates to veterans.

But at that same House subcommittee hearing in April, the VA’s Dr. Franklin rejected that proposal too, saying the research mandate was too broad, and it was “too ambitious and too risky” for her liking.

So I asked Congressman Moulton why he thinks his research bill would get the go-ahead, where Correa’s failed?

“My hope is that our bill, being a little more narrowly written, and being bipartisan, it will be able to get through the Congress.”

(Side note: Correa’s bill was also bipartisan, sponsored by Louisiana Republican Clay Higgins.)

Third, there was the bill from Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer that would have allowed VA doctors to recommend marijuana in states where it’s legal, without fear of prosecution. A little different from Moulton’s bill that would educate primary care physicians and allow them to advise veteran patients on marijuana use.

But during that same subcommittee hearing in April, Dr. Franklin rejected Blumenauer’s proposal too.

She said VA doctors whom the bill would allow to recommend marijuana would still be liable for criminal prosecution due to current DEA guidance, and according to the Controlled Substances Act.

Congressman Moulton doesn’t want exactly the same thing as Blumenauer here- instead of allowing VA doctors to recommend it straight away, he wants them to learn marijuana science so they can know how to work with patients who already use it.

So I asked him about the fact that this is all blocked by the CSA; What does he think about attacking the issue from the source; going straight for the Controlled Substances Act itself?

“I think it could definitely help. I don’t know if it’s a silver bullet though. The bottom line is that I’m going to continue voting for all of these things, and I do think that chipping away is helpful… I think what we’ve seen from our experience in Massachusetts is that taking steps in the right direction here helps us to open up the conversation… I hope that we can use veterans as a model, and by doing this for veterans - which tends to get a lot of bipartisan support here in Congress - we can then expand it to the rest of America.”

You can hear the full interview with Congressman Seth Moulton on this week's episode of Blunt Talk on the iHeart Radio App.

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Blunt Talk is a podcast about cannabis hosted by Brit Smith every Monday. You can listen to all previous podcasts on iHeartRadio.

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