A powerful U.S. Senate panel is calling on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to facilitate medical marijuana access for veterans and explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. They’re also asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take steps to promote the hemp industry and cannabis genetics research.
Reports attached to 2024 Fiscal Year spending bills that recently advanced through the Senate Appropriations Committee touch on a number of cannabis issues. The text was released days after the panel approved the underlying legislation, including one 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 that directs VA to “make appropriate recommendations, complete forms, or take other actions to facilitate a veteran’s decision to participate in such programs approved by a State and document it appropriately, to the extent allowable under Federal law.”
It also notes that the spending bill itself includes language “prohibiting the use of funds to interfere with the ability of veterans to participate in State-approved medicinal cannabis programs or deny service to such veterans.”
Another section of the report discusses the “increased 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 efficacy of psychedelic therapies in treating PTSD, major depressive disorder, and other serious mental health conditions.”
A separate report for the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies appropriations measure features several hemp-related provisions.
For example, there’s a section that encourages USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to carry out “biotechnology and genomics research” in partnership with academic institutions to “elucidate the genetic control of key production and product quality traits in hemp to facilitate cultivar development.”
Appropriators are also providing at least the same level of funding as in the 2023 Fiscal Year to support collaboration between USDA and capable institutions to conduct research that focuses on improving hemp genetics through “new breeding and editing techniques.”
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The committee’s report further says that it “recognizes the increasing demand for hemp for a variety of uses and its growing importance as a crop for U.S. farmers.”
Because the germplasm for hemp was “destroyed” in the 1980s, senators said that “researchers lost access to publicly available germplasm for plant breeding purposes.” And in an effort to address that problem, the report says it will again provide funding for USDA’s ARS to maintain a “hemp germplasm repository at the Plant Genetics Resources Research Unit.”
It also urges ARS and the research unit to “partner with 1890 institutions that have existing institutional capacity on hemp germplasm research, education, and extension capabilities.”
Another section of the report says that the “Committee recognizes the emerging market potential for U.S. hemp and hemp-based products for a variety of uses.”
“The Committee directs ARS to conduct regionally-driven research, development, and stakeholder engagement to improve agronomic and agro-economic understanding of effectively integrating hemp into existing agricultural cropping, processing, and marketing systems,” it says. “The Committee provides no less than the fiscal year 2023 level for this purpose. Research, engagement, and technology transfer shall be conducted in strict accordance with all applicable Federal and State authorities and regulations.”
Finally, the report says that, in recognition of the expanding interest into hemp, the committee is directing the administrative Farm Credit Administration to “work with the institutions under its jurisdiction to provide access to guaranteed loans for hemp producers and businesses.”
Meanwhile, on the House side, a congressional committee recently approved a large-scale defense bill that includes GOP-led provisions to create a medical marijuana “pilot program” and require a study into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for active duty military members under the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.