Recently, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize cannabis. The bill to legalize cannabis in the state for adults 21 and older passed 66 to 47 and only needed to be signed into law. The approach is lauded as being one of the most equity-centric in the nation, creating opportunities for many in the form of income. “The approach is also a step in criminal justice reform, as people with past convictions for having less than 30 grams of cannabis can have their records cleared. Under the new laws, adults 21 and older can legally hold up to one ounce of cannabis, enough for a 30-day supply. Tourists can legally hold 15 grams.”
The FDA held a hearing about CBD (cannabidiol), which contained ten hours of testimony from over 100 stakeholders. The findings could be summarized as the American Market having a high demand for CBD products and yet, too many CBD manufacturers are producing poor quality goods. FDA Acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless was quoted as saying that there was “much we don’t know” regarding CBD products and effects. One aspect of the hearing focused on the amount of manufacturers taking advantage of a lack of regulations to dilute the amount of actual CBD in their products. Such practices allow them to manufacture at a discount and sell cheaper products than high-quality CBD makers. Compounding the problem of poor-quality product is the fact that most consumers don’t know which brands are legitimate in the first place. Indeed, some authorities still don’t quite know what CBD even is. Overall, the FDA’s focus is on gathering scientific data that will help them to properly regulate CBD and related elements.
US Military Veterans face great obstacles to receiving marijuana as treatment for their various conditions. Even in states where marijuana is already legal, doctors are unable to recommend or prescribe marijuana for VA patients due to the drug’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance under current VA policy. Only in the last two years has legislation shifted to allow doctors to discuss medical marijuana use, and only when a patient requests information or when it is deemed to have clinical relevance. One option is for veterans to see a doctor outside of the VA system and pay for the treatment themselves, but that can be a costly workaround. Even those who can pay for the treatment may find their regular prescriptions from the VA system in jeopardy when it comes to routine drug testing. The drug testing is intended to check for harmful interactions, but if veterans test positive for marijuana, they could lose access to the regular prescriptions. On top of all this, the VA Secretary has explicitly said that the federal law is to be respected, and that the effects of marijuana on the brain have been deemed unclear.
There is a bill called the VA Medicinal Cannabis Act of 2019 that is at the center of reform efforts. It would require the VA to conduct research on the effects of medicinal marijuana on veterans diagnosed with chronic pain and PTSD. Other bills have been introduced that would expand veterans’ access to medicinal marijuana in places where it is already legal, including the Veterans Equal Access Act, which would allow for doctors in the VA system to give recommendations and opinions on medical marijuana. Still, the VA has not undertaken any research of this sort, citing federal requirements and the need for involvement of other federal agencies, and it seems that the barriers will remain as long as there is no legalization on a federal level.