Senate Committee Issues Directives on Medical Marijuana Access for Veterans, Psychedelic Research, and Hemp Genetic Innovation

A powerful US Senate committee is calling on the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ease access to medical marijuana for veterans and explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. They are also asking the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take steps to promote the hemp industry and research into cannabis genetics.

The reports attached to the FY 2024 spending bills that were recently filed through the Senate Appropriations Committee touch on a number of cannabis-related issues. The text was released days after the panel approved underlying legislation, including a bill that was amended to allow VA doctors to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to patients living in legal states.

Accordingly, the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations report includes a section directing the VA to “make appropriate recommendations, fill out forms, or take other actions to facilitate a veteran’s decision to participate in such state-approved programs and document them appropriately, to the extent permitted by federal law.

It also notes that the spending bill itself includes language “prohibiting the use of funds to interfere with veterans’ ability to participate in state-approved medical cannabis programs or deny service to such veterans.”

Another section of the report discusses the “growing interest in studying psychedelic therapies and their potential therapeutic effects for veterans.”

The committee implored VA to “explore opportunities to assist with privately funded research programs to evaluate the effectiveness of psychedelic therapies in treating PTSD, major depressive disorder, and other serious mental health conditions.”

A separate report for the Agriculture Appropriations Measure, Rural Development, the Food and Drug Administration, and related agencies presents several provisions related to hemp.

For example, there is a section encouraging the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to conduct “biotechnological and genomic research” in collaboration with academic institutions to “elucidate the genetic control of key traits of yield and product quality in hemp to facilitate cultivar development”.

The funders are also providing at least the same level of funding as in fiscal year 2023 to support collaboration between USDA and capable institutions conducting research focused on improving hemp genetics through “novel breeding and modification techniques.”

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The committee’s report also says it “recognizes the growing demand for hemp for a variety of uses and its growing importance as a crop to U.S. farmers.”

Since hemp germplasm was “destroyed” in the 1980s, the senators said “researchers have lost access to publicly available germplasm for plant breeding purposes.” And in an effort to address this issue, the report says it will again provide funding to the USDA ARS to maintain a “repository of hemp germplasm at the Plant Genetic Resources Research Unit.”

It also urges the ARS and the research unit to “partner with 1890 institutions that have existing institutional capacity in hemp germplasm research, education, and extension capacity.”

Another section of the report states that the “Committee recognizes the emerging market potential for US hemp and hemp-based products for a variety of uses.”

“The Committee directs the ARS to conduct regionally-led research, development and stakeholder engagement to improve agronomic and agroeconomic understanding of the successful integration of hemp into existing agricultural systems of cultivation, processing and marketing,” he says. “The Committee is providing no less than the fiscal year 2023 level for this purpose. Research, engagement and technology transfer must be conducted in strict compliance with all applicable federal and state authorities and regulations.

Finally, the report said that, in recognition of the growing interest in hemp, the committee is directing the Agricultural Credit Administration to work with institutions under its jurisdiction to provide access to secured loans for hemp producers and businesses. .

Meanwhile, on the House side, a congressional committee recently passed a large-scale defense bill that includes GOP-led provisions to create a medical marijuana pilot program and request a study into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for active duty military members under the United States Department of Defense (DOD).

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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