Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin speaks during a briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (Susan Walsh, Associated Press)

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin says MMJ “may be helpful” but hands tied by federal law

At a “State of the VA” address at the White House Wednesday, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said federal law prevents the department from implementing any potential benefits of medical marijuana for veterans.

In his speech, Shulkin spoke of the epidemic of veteran suicide, a figure he put at 20 suicides per day. “That should be unacceptable to all of us. This is a national public health crisis, and it requires solutions that not only VA will work on but all of government and other partnerships in the private sector, nonprofit organizations.”

He called a new suicide-prevention initiative “Getting to Zero” his “top clinical priority.”

A reporter referenced an op-ed the American Legion wrote last week, following up on their request to meet with President Donald Trump to discuss medical marijuana, noting they “suggested that a promising solution to the suicide problem could be increased medical use of cannabis.”

The reporter then asked, “Should the Congress reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to allow for it to be better used for medical purposes?”

Shulkin replied: “Well, right now, federal law does not prevent (sic) us at VA to look at that as an option for veterans. I believe that everything that could help veterans should be debated by Congress and by medical experts, and we will implement that law. So if there is compelling evidence that this is helpful, I hope that people take a look at that and come up with the right decision, and then we will implement that.”

The reporter followed up, asking for Shulkin’s personal opinion: “As a physician, what’s your opinion?”

To which Shulkin gave a fuller response: “My opinion is, is that some of the states that have put in appropriate controls, there may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful. And we’re interested in looking at that and learning from that. But until the time that federal law changes, we are not able to be able to prescribe medical marijuana for conditions that may be helpful.”

Shulkin also pointed out that veterans who were not honorably discharged are now eligible for emergency mental health services.

American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt responded in a statement: “The American Legion thanks Secretary Shulkin for his acknowledgment of the medicinal potential of cannabis, and we stand ready to fight alongside him to get this Administration to reschedule marijuana and remove onerous barriers to medical research – especially into marijuana’s efficacy in the treatment of PTSD, TBI, chronic pain, and other myriad illnesses.”

Schmidt reiterated the stance of the Legion: “It is time to allow medical researchers to thoroughly investigate the medicinal properties of this plant.”