WASHINGTON — Rep. Lou Correa thinks 2019 could finally be the year that medical cannabis becomes legal for veterans nationwide.
“What do you tell a veteran who has brought back invisible scars and those opioids aren’t doing a darn thing for them?” the California Democrat said in a recent interview with Military Times.
“They say cannabis works for them. How do you argue against that? I don’t think there is a legitimate argument to oppose it.”
Correa, who sits on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has been pushing legislation since last spring that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to research whether medical marijuana may be a safe and effective treatment for post-traumatic stress, chronic pain and other war wounds. He plans on re-introducing the measure early in the next Congress.
The measure received strong Republican support in committee last year but stalled in the full House. Now, with Democrats taking control of the chamber, he sees an opportunity not just for an incremental legislative step forward, but passage into law.
“I don’t see it as a partisan issue,” he said. “The bill last year had [committee] Chairman Phil Roe as a co-sponsor … Cannabis is one of those issues that more and more has taken a more bipartisan approach in recent years.”
In fact, multiple Republican House members have pushed for broader authorities for VA to study and veterans to use the drug for medicinal purposes.
But Trump administration officials — in particular, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions — have staunchly opposed the idea.
VA officials have said as long as the substance remains classified as illegal under federal law, they won’t move to broaden research or acceptance of it.
Currently, 31 states allow some use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes. But under federal law, it remains classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which places strict use and procurement guidelines on any medical testing.
Correa said he understands the stigma that use of the drug carries. But he also understands its potential benefits.
“More than half of the population in this country lives in jurisdictions that has legalized cannabis. Canada has fully legalized it,” he said. “If Alabama decides they don’t want to legalize it, OK. But if the state of California and 40 others do, it should be a state’s rights issue.”
Sessions' departure could soften the administration’s stance on the issue, Correa noted. And President Donald Trump’s own stated comments about opioid addiction in America could lend support to the idea of developing more alternatives, including cannabis use.
He said he’ll be pushing Democratic leadership to move on the issue quickly next session, and reaching out to the Senate for similar support in that still Republican-controlled chamber.
“Every day they find new medical uses for cannabis,” he said. “It’d be sad if we continued to keep putting our heads in the sand.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.