The fast-growing legal cannabis industry is attracting interest from many other market sectors in recent years. In addition to capital investments from the tech sector, the wine industry has become especially prominent in the cannabis market, looking to unlock new revenue streams by partnering with cannabis firms in the United States and Canada. Of particular note is interest in the recreational cannabis sector, which is poised for significant growth in the coming years.
Wine Industry Interest
Once seen as the “enemy” of the cannabis industry due to fierce competition for customers, alcohol producers have expressed a deep desire to join forces with cannabis producers and retailers. For marijuana businesses, wine companies represent a number of unique business opportunities, including that of added legitimacy. It is not only the winemakers themselves that have begun to pursue entry into the cannabis market, but a wide range of wine-centric business operations and professional staff, including:
- Compliance specialists
- Packaging and labeling concerns
- Marketing firms
- Legal professionals
- Finance specialists
On its surface, this potential partnership between marijuana and wine companies seems unusual, but it begins to make sense when one realizes that the two markets are very similar in many ways, especially in legal compliance, marketing, and financing. For members of the wine industry, entrance into the marijuana market is a logical step and an easy transition for those firms that recognize the similarities in operations and in customer base.
Spurring Partnerships Between Wine and Cannabis
The interest coming in from wine-centric businesses is a relatively new phenomenon. In 2016, a discussion session at that year’s Wine Industry Network expo featured the topic of marijuana legalization and how that might affect wine sales. Analysts noted that the session was overwhelmingly popular with event attendees, and encouraged the Network to carry on the conversation in another one-day conference.
In August, 2107, the Wine Industry Network hosted a symposium in Santa Rosa, California. It brought together experts from the wine and marijuana industries and covered topics like regulatory compliance, tourism, cultivation, licensing, and many other aspects that the two business sectors shared. Like the session at the 2016 industry conference, the 2017 symposium was met with enthusiasm by business owners, industry personnel, and ancillary operations, packing the meeting rooms of the event.
Industry analysts from both sectors agreed that cannabis has become more palatable to established wine and spirits firms due to the fact that a promised threat by the federal government to crack down on legal cannabis businesses has not yet caused issues. On the state level, marijuana has gained legality; 29 states and the District of Columbia have legislated legal medical marijuana, while nine states and D.C. have also passed recreational cannabis legalization laws.
Technology and Operations Outreach to the Cannabis Industry
As mentioned earlier, both the wine and cannabis industries share many similarities. Both must adhere to strict regulatory compliance. Both depend on the successful cultivation and harvest of living plant material to manufacture their end products. And, both have a particular focus on hygiene and contamination control in their cultivation and production operations. Because of these similarities, there is significant overlap in many aspects of operations, with technology and packaging/labeling operations representing the potential for unique partnerships between industries.
Companies that manufacture contamination control solutions have found that the same technology can be applied to cannabis production facilities. An ozone-generation system that was developed for the wine, food, and pharmaceuticals sectors has found a home in cannabis production, particularly in companies that produce edibles and oral tinctures, two segments of the marijuana industry that are highly-regulated in terms of food safety standards. Cleanliness and cross-contamination protection technologies developed for agricultural concerns are also a ready match for cannabis cultivation; with much of commercial cannabis produced in indoor grow facilities, the spread of pathogens or molds can wipe out entire harvests. Cannabis operations depend on clean, healthy facilities to ensure success, and they have adopted technologies with the help of companies that had served the wine industry for decades.
In packaging and labeling operations, overlap between the wine industry and the nascent marijuana market presents new opportunities. A study conducted by the wine industry suggested that up to 70% of all wine purchases were influenced by the design and appearance of bottle labeling. Wine labeling specialists know that labels give companies the opportunity to educated consumers on the specific characteristics of the wine and its crafting. This is also the case in the cannabis industry, where there may be hundreds of different marijuana strains and cannabis-infused products to choose from. Marijuana markets looking to differentiate themselves from competitors know that visual marketing in the form of stylish and informative labels can spell the difference between failure and success.
Wine labeling operations must also adhere to established standards, and the same factors apply in several cannabis-legal states, where all labeling must contain specific information for consumers. Marijuana producers and retailers see wine labeling as a path forward, applying the lessons learned by the wine industry over decades and ushering in new partnerships between that industry and the cannabis market.
Wine vs. Cannabis: Friend or Foe?
Not all wine business players are sharing excitement about potential partnerships with cannabis producers. While many wine industry veterans see the cannabis industry as an allied market ready for exploration and partnership, others approach the cannabis industry with trepidation. Federal regulations and the specter of federal crackdowns have had a chilling effect on some partnerships.
Distrust among cannabis businesses is the most prominent factor influencing partnerships between industries. Due to the sensitive nature of cannabis production and the strict regulations surrounding its cultivation, retail, and distribution, many marijuana firms are reluctant to trust outsiders. Once they have learned more about wine industry operations, however, trust is built and both sectors can enter into lucrative partnerships. Industry analysts note that the similarities between markets are just too sweet to ignore. If both sectors understand that by forging partnerships, the combined forces can expect new revenue streams and a more engaged customer base.
Legislators in New York seem to think so. Recently, Democrat Amy Paulin introduced legislation that would allow veterinarian in New York to certify pets for the medical cannabis program. However, Paulin has not found a sponsor in the Senate.
What Does the Legislation Say?
The argument for the legalization of medical marijuana for pets is simple: Since many people benefit from medical marijuana, animals with similar medical conditions can also benefit.
The bill states, “Research suggests that animals can also benefit from cannabis use to similarly treat their ailments.”
For pets with chronic illnesses or those who traditional treatment methods have not been effective, animal owners would be given the option to use medical marijuana to bring relief to their suffering pet.
Will the Legislation Make it to the Floor?
Unfortunately, no. With no co-sponsor in the Assembly and no sponsor in the Senate, the bill faces an uphill battle. In addition, Governor Andrew Cuomo is not rushing to support any medical cannabis legislation. So, even if the bill were to pass both the Assembly and Senate, it may end up “dead-on-arrival” when it reaches the governor’s desk.
There is some good news for the bill’s supporters. Representative Richard Gottfried, a longtime proponent of medical cannabis and chair of the Assembly Health Committee, received the bill. Gottfried was the lead sponsor for legislation in 2014 for New York’s medical cannabis program.
Growing support across the country is building for the use of medical marijuana for people suffering from a wide variety of ailments who are seeking relief. Research continues to prove the benefits of cannabis oil in treating a variety of conditions.
Veterinarians and pet owners, in states such as Nevada, where medical cannabis for pets is allowed, are finding that there are many positive benefits for dogs. When used as an alternative medication to treat cancer, seizures, or even anxiety, cannabis oil is gaining popularity.
What is Cannabis Oil?
Derived from the marijuana plant, cannabis oil is extracted from the flowers of the plant. Marijuana flowers contain trichomes. These are glands on the plant that contain essential oils. When separated from the plant, scientists formulate these oils to identify the perfect ratio of cannabinoids.
Cannabinoid is a class of chemical compounds that act on certain receptors and alter the release of neurotransmitters in the brain. There are two main constituents in the marijuana plant: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
THC is the psychoactive compound that gives users the “high” feeling and CBD does not. However, CBD has been found to provide anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic effects for users.
Scientists have isolated 113 different cannabinoids from cannabis which exhibit varied effects. Epilepsy, inflammatory conditions, multiple sclerosis pain, and even certain addictions have been treated successfully with CBD.
For pet owners who are worried that Fido will become addicted to marijuana, Dr. Gary Richter, an Oakland, California veterinary medical director, states, “Depending on the nature of the product, if it contains little or no THC, then the dog is not going to get high.”
What Are Some of the Benefits for Dogs Who Take Cannabis Oil?
When the cannabinoids in marijuana connect with the endocannabinoid system, relief for pain, anxiety, or even nausea is felt. A series of receptors runs throughout the body. The cannabinoids interact with these receptors bringing many dogs relief. In addition, with proper dosage, there are no life-threatening side effects, unlike some other traditional medications that are prescribed by doctors. The kidneys, liver, or GI tract are not damaged by cannabis oil.
Some common health conditions in dogs that cannabis oil has been found beneficial in treating include:
- Back Pain
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Cancer symptoms
What Are Some of the Potential Risks for Dogs Who Take Cannabis Oil?
Since a minute amount of THC is in cannabis, not enough for the pet to get “high,” but enough to be detected, if a pet receives an overdose of cannabis oil, the effects may last for days. THC toxicity can be a very noticeable side-effect of an overdose of cannabis oil. The pet may be unable to stand or eat.
However, these types of life-threatening risks are very rare. In fact, a pet is more likely to have an adverse reaction to chocolate, coffee, or raisins. Still, there have been recorded cases of dogs who have ingested large amounts of marijuana and died. Therefore, Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinary advisor with petMD advises that preventing overdoses with medical cannabis is still extremely important. As with any medication given to a pet, consult a veterinarian first.
How Do I Administer Cannabis Oil to My Dog?
There are some topical treatments available, but typically, cannabis oil is administered to dogs orally. Cannabis oil does not interfere with other traditional medications and treatments. In fact, research suggests that marijuana and traditional medications share “synergistic benefits.”
Dosing should be done properly to prevent any negative side-effects such as psychoactive reactions. If a pet is dosed properly, they should only have a positive effect and no psychoactive effects.
However, there is a problem with dosage regulations for dogs…there are none. Coates suggests that until there is sufficient research done to determine the correct dosage for CBD oil in dogs, pet parents should take the time to talk to a veterinarian who is already experienced with treating pets with cannabis oil. Information about proper dosage and reputable manufactures is akin to gold.
Where Can I Get Cannabis Oil for My Dog?
Depending on which state a person lives in and the state’s marijuana laws, obtaining medical cannabis for a pet may be as easy as pulling out a person’s medical cannabis card. Since there are no medical cannabis cards for animals, a person must first speak to a veterinarian who is familiar with proper dosage amounts. Then, they can purchase cannabis oil with their personal medical marijuana card and administer the proper dosage to their pet. Pet parents who live in states where there are no medical marijuana laws may opt for hemp products that contain lower amounts of THC.
It is obvious that much additional research needs to be conducted on proper dosage amounts, the numerous benefits to cannabis oil for pets, and any side effects that may yet be known.
For many years, natural healers and many in the medical community have understood the power of cannabis in helping to treat chronic pain. Active compounds in cannabis, particularly cannabidiol, or CBD, have been shown anecdotally and in scientific studies to bring about pain relief in test subjects. While research is still needed to determine dosing accuracy and frequency, advances in our understanding of CBD oils derived from cannabis have been achieved. Of note is a recent study conducted by the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, which investigated a hemp oil product made for dogs suffering from chronic pain conditions. In this article, we will discuss the study as well as the background on hemp oil in treating a number of health conditions.
What is Cannabidiol?
Before discussing the CBD oil study conducted by Cornell University, it can be beneficial to introduce cannabidiol, one of numerous active chemical compounds found in cannabis. In medical marijuana production and use, CBD and a similar compound called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, are the focus of research. These two compounds are classed as cannabinoids, of which there are hundreds of examples. THC is the chemical compound that produces feelings of euphoria. In other words, THC is psychoactive, producing the “high” that recreational marijuana users desire.
CBD, on other hand, is not a psychoactive cannabinoid. Medical patients who rely on cannabis for relief may not want the side effects that THC brings to the table; for those with chronic pain, the debilitating high can get in the way of function and daily activity. Cannabis strains with high percentages in CBD were developed to provide these patients the relief they need without the disordered thinking and euphoria that is associated with THC. CBD oil derived from these strains boasts little, if any, of the psychoactive THC compound. Some states that have not legalized medical marijuana use, sale, and possession still allow CBD oil to be sold in the state, provided that THC levels are non-existent in those oil products.
The Cornell University Study
In a partnership with ElleVet Sciences, the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University conducted a research study centered on a hemp oil product manufactured by ElleVet. The goal of the study was to determine the effectiveness of ElleVet’s Mobility soft chews in controlling pain and soreness in dogs. The study took place over an eight-month period and was designed as a placebo-controlled and double blind investigation – the first of its kind in the veterinary sciences. In addition to investigating the pain relief potential of the product, another component of the study was to determine dosage scheduling and dosage rate. Investigating how the product was metabolized and its exact chemical effect was also part of the research study.
ElleVet’s Mobility soft chews contain CBD derived from hemp oil as well as two other compounds, chondroitin and glucosamine, known to provide improvements in joint mobility in animals and humans. In the study, over 80% of dogs who used the soft chews experienced substantial reductions in pain, resulting in improved mobility. This was especially true for dogs suffering from osteoarthritis, chronic joint pain, geriatric pain and discomfort, and the loss of mobility resulting from age. Geriatric dogs in the study showed the most dramatic improvements in functional mobility. Researchers involved in the study endorsed the product, describing it as a “game changer” for the veterinary medical community. Further studies need to be conducted, but the partnership between ElleVet and Cornell University is already lining up new investigations. First, the group will research the effectiveness of the Mobility soft chews on mitigating surgical and oncological pain in dogs. Next, ElleVet’s hemp oil product developed for cats will also be investigated in a similar study to the original dog-oriented one.
CBD Oil in Scientific Studies
Cannabinoids have been studied by health researchers for many years. CBD, the active cannabinoid credited with pain relief, has been the focus of nearly 25,000 published studies. CBD oil is credited with many health benefits borne out by exhaustive research. Among these health benefits are:
- Anti-anxiety properties
- Chronic pain relief
- Anti-inflammatory action
- Reduction in seizure frequency in epileptic patients
For the commercial cannabis cultivator, high-CBD strains represent a unique opportunity to bring science-backed health benefits to the medical marijuana community. Edibles and concentrates produced from these strains are proving popular with medical cannabis patients and have found acceptance even in states where a stigma on cannabis consumption is still in existence. Eliminating the psychoactive high from the equation has been a game-changer for many in the medical cannabis production industry, allowing their products to be sold in states that have not yet legislated medical marijuana use and possession. The future is bright for the medical cannabis community, thanks to groundbreaking studies like the Cornell University investigation in treating patients struggling with chronic pain.
For those new to the cannabis industry, there are three distinct groups of cannabis: indica, sativa, and hybrid. All of the different types of strains are considered marijuana but classifying them into the three groups helps to determine the types of effects, smells, and flavors that should be expected from a particular strain.
A History of Cannabis
Just as trees have evolved to suit their climate, so have indica and sativa strains. For example, indica strains are thought to have originated near Central Asia. From there it spread to India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Morocco, and Turkey. These strains adapted to local growing conditions and were generally found between 30° and 50° latitude. Names such as Afghani Kush, Hindu Kush, and Mazar I Sharif have been given to the plants that thrived in this region.
In comparison, sativa grows in warmer weather near or on the equator. Countries such as Colombia, Mexico, Thailand, and Southeast Asia, where there are humid and tropical climates have seen sativa bloom into strains called Durban Poison, Panama Red, and Acapulco Gold. There are many regions today where sativa still grows wild.
Both of these naturally-growing landraces have formed the backbone, genetically speaking, for modern cannabis cultivars. Crossbreeding of particular landraces, as well as strains produced, have given the marijuana industry the wide variety of cannabis strains now available, each with its own distinct characteristics.
It is possible to identify whether a plant is indica or sativa by looking at how the plant grows. Indica grows short and bushy and is usually under 6 feet tall. Sativa can reach upwards of 20 feet when grown outdoors. The branches of the sativa plant spread outwards and upwards with long, narrow leaves, while the leaves of the indica plant are much thicker and broader.
Since indica plants grow smaller, many prefer them for indoor cultivation. These plants typically produce less of a yield than their taller counterparts, but there is a shorter growing cycle which offsets the lower yield.
Sativa plants can take anywhere from 10 to 16 weeks to mature during their flowering period, much longer than indica. However, the longer maturation time results in a much higher yield.
Chemical Characteristics and Composition
On a molecular level, sativa and indica strains differ in the make-up of the cannabinoid content, terpenes, and other compounds.
Terpenes give the cannabis plant and flowers a diversity in aroma and flavor. These essential oils are secreted into the flower’s resin glands. Terpenes, in addition to providing a flower with its distinct aroma, also provide therapeutic abilities. Flavor profiles in indica strains can range from sweet must to rich earth to dark fruit, while sativa strains often evoke a citrus, pine, or even tropical profile.
With over 100 cannabinoids identified in the cannabis plan, the two most well-known are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
Pure sativa strains are high in THC and low in CBD content, while indica strains tend to have a higher CBD content and lower THC. When crossbred, growers are able to have both indica and sativa strains with varying ratios of THC:CBD cannabinoid concentrations.
THC and CBD work together inside the cannabis plant. TCH is the most prevalent cannabinoid with CBD coming in second. THC’s interaction and effect with the body is controlled by CBD and pay modulate the high a strain produces.
The Effects of Cannabis
A strain can have a personality that will manifest itself with each cannabis strain having different nuances that effect the body and mind. Traditionally, indica affects the body and sativa affects the mind. Through the hundreds of different hybrids available, the effects from these two strains can differ widely in their exact effects on the body and mind.
Typically, indica strains cause changes to the body, including feelings of:
Used by many after strenuous activity to manage recovery time, chronic issues where a calm or relaxing state should be achieved, or even relaxing at home before bedtime, indica-dominant strains provide a mellow high.
In contrast, sativa strains give a more cerebral high and tend to manifest their effects in the mind. The effects can be:
Sativa strains can enhance creativity, allow for deep conversation, and are suited for daytime use or social situation. Many users struggling with mood issues turn to the sativa strains of medical marijuana.
Hybrids of Sativa and Indica
Through hybridization, there are many different strains of sativa and indica. By combining the effects of the parent genetics into a single strain, botanists have produced a wide variety of sub-strains. From these sub-strains, many of the genetic pieces have been pulled and combined with parent genetics to form new hybrid strains.
For example, Girl Scout Cookies is a very popular strain. It pulls genetic pieces from the pure sativa Durban Poison along with the hybrid strain OG Kush. Girl Scout Cookies, even as a product of crossbreeding, is itself used as a parent to create dozens of new strains now available on dispensary shelves.
The Cannabis Family Tree
Just as humans are able to trace their DNA back generations, hybrid strains can also be traced. Tracing hybrid strains can become a confusing endeavor with over two thousand different strains named, each claiming a unique genetic family tree.
Taking on the parent strains characteristics, including scent and flavor profiles, the ability to combine breed strains together gives breeders an almost endless way to combine cannabinoid and terpene compositions. The effects will manifest as sativa-dominant, indica-dominant, or a hybrid balance of the two. Knowing the parent genetics of a strain and the ratio of dominance, either indica or sativa, users are better able to find the strain that fits their individual needs.
Genotype VS Phenotype
The DNA of a plan, a strain’s genetics, is the genotype. A plants observable characteristic is its phenotype. Genetics and environmental influences determine a plants phenotype. Variations may occur within a particular strain when grown. Therefore, due to phenotype and environmental factors, buyers may experience a slightly different taste or smell or even stronger indica or sativa effect than expected.
For centuries, people have turned to alcohol products to unwind after a long day, to celebrate with friends, and to mark special occasions. Now that legal cannabis has entered the scene, the alcohol industry’s dominance over the recreational market may be coming to an end. Cannabis industry analysts and business leaders suggest that cannabis may hold the keys to the kingdom, representing a vast opportunity for profits and continued growth among recreational users as an alternative to alcohol products.
Competitive Advantages of Cannabis
Nine U.S. states and the District of Columbia have passed recreational marijuana legislation in the past three years. More states are putting the finishing touches on their own legislation, and the country of Canada is expected to have recreational cannabis legalization laws on the books in the coming months. This groundswell of support for recreational weed has industry analysts excited about the recreational markets springing up across the country.
Alcohol is typically consumed only as a beverage. Cannabis, on the other hand, lends itself to a variety of products, including smoking the cured flowers, creating tinctures, edibles, beverages, and vaping liquids. This versatility provides a strong competitive challenge to alcohol’s dominance on the recreational scene. One industry analyst suggests that cannabis meets more consumer demands and satisfies consumer motivations better than alcohol ever could, and believes that as the commercial cannabis industry grows, its biggest players may even target alcohol producers for acquisition.
Another potential competitive advantage on the recreational market is a belief that cannabis is safer than alcohol. Users of recreational marijuana believe that it does not impair them in the same way that consuming alcohol might. This belief is especially prevalent among younger users, a potent demographic in recreational cannabis and alcohol markets. Whether cannabis is safer than alcohol is up for debate, but those who tend to believe in this may prefer recreational weed over alcohol products, helping to spur growth in a fast-growing market.
Threat or Opportunity?
Many alcohol producers are eyeing the emerging recreational cannabis market as a threat, as cannabis represents an alternative to alcoholic drinks. The cannabis industry’s profit pool is massive, approaching the entire amount of the alcohol industry’s profit over the past three to five years. As more states and Canada adopt legalization legislation, the profit potential is sure to increase dramatically. Industry estimates suggest that the recreational market for marijuana alone will account for $40 billion in sales by 2020; if more states join the legalization initiatives taking shape, that profit may soar to unexpected highs.
The fact remains that consumer motivations and needs are similar between those who use cannabis and those who use alcohol products. Based on the aforementioned competitive advantages of the legal cannabis market, however, cannabis can meet needs that alcohol makers simply cannot approach. Still, the smartest companies on both sides of the recreational market are seeing consumer demand as an opportunity, rather than a threat.
In many cases, such as in Canada and in several U.S. states where legalization legislation has passed, the alcohol control board oversees the commercial cannabis industry. This gives both markets a bit of uniformity when it comes to regulation, helping to pave the way for lucrative partnerships. Some alcohol companies have invested heavily in licensed cannabis producers, both as a means of getting a piece of the profits as well as to expand market offerings.
There will always be overlap in the customer base between alcohol and cannabis, so these partnerships could create synergies that can be leveraged, producing products that meet consumer demands no matter what their recreational preferences are. Alcohol companies are exploring the marijuana market for new beverage ideas and perhaps even the development and production of nutraceutical products. Both alcohol and cannabis producers are also looking at other strategic partnerships across markets, including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, food, and beverages, just to name a few. The goal is to improve market penetration, and partnership suggest a path forward for all of the major players in these ever-growing markets.
Partial ownership of growing cannabis companies and their incredible profitability may also help struggling alcohol producers to weather downturns in their own markets. In the current landscape, industry analysts are seeing alcohol companies purchasing partial or total stake in some of the largest commercial cannabis companies. It is expected that as the cannabis market grows, the reverse will be true: cannabis firms snapping up alcohol companies in merger and acquisition strategies. This shift is expected within the next three to five years.
Finally, consumer goods personnel — particularly alcohol business executives — are in great demand by the cannabis industry. Consumer goods and alcohol executives have the skillsets that smart cannabis businesses need to thrive; the market is filled with great business ideas but little in the way of executive experience. Injecting seasoned business executives into the mix will strengthen the companies that employ such personnel, helping to create stability in an ever-fluctuating market. Alcohol executives, for their part, have many commonalities with the cannabis market’s needs, including marketing and promotional strategies, production efficiency initiatives, and automation, all of which will bring consistency and quality into the commercial cannabis industry. The future of partnerships between alcohol and cannabis companies may be several years away, but early moves suggest that these partnerships will work to create a flourishing, robust market economy.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) changed its language on their website to suggest that the department is open to researching the effects of medical marijuana as a viable treatment option. On the VA’s website, a recent update suggests that research towards the benefits of medical marijuana for Veterans may finally be opening up.
The VA is seeking to clarify its position pertaining to the VA and marijuana. According to the VA Website, they understand that several states have approved marijuana use for medical use. They also reiterate that marijuana and all derivative products are still classified under federal law as a Schedule One controlled substance. Therefore, it is still illegal under federal government laws.
What Does the FDA Have to Do With the VA?
Since the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is mandated to follow all federal laws and the Food and Drug Administration still classifies marijuana as a Schedule One drug, VA doctors and health care providers are not allowed to recommend it or prescribe it to veterans.
However, they are allowed to discuss marijuana use with their patients as part of an overall care plan. This is where the “waters get murky.” The VA states:
- Veterans are still allowed access to VA benefits when marijuana use is reported to their healthcare provider.
- These same Veterans are encouraged to discuss all drug use with their providers.
- The provider will record marijuana use in the veteran’s record as a means to help with treatment planning.
- Clinicians at the VA may not recommend medical marijuana.
- Clinicians may not provide any paperwork for Veterans to allow participation in state-approved marijuana programs.
- Pharmacies at the VA are not to fill any prescriptions for medical marijuana.
- Funds from the VA will not be used to pay for medical marijuana prescriptions.
- Any state laws regarding the possession of marijuana are not in effect when on VA grounds. The VA is a federal facility and federal laws govern any federal facility.
In addition, Carolyn Clancy, M.D. Executive in Charge, emailed a directive to employees of the VA on December 15, 2017, to provide clarification on the VA’s stand on medical marijuana. Some items in the directive include:
- Reason – The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) directive is to provide guidance on access to VHA clinical programs for all Veterans who participate in State-approved marijuana programs.
- Summary of Major Changes – The major change in policy is to add additional support to the Veteran-provider relationship when discussing the impact on health and use of marijuana for any Veteran-specific treatment plans.
This language gives hope to medical marijuana advocates that the VA is finally opening up to investigating the effects of medical marijuana on health problems faced by Veterans, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Marijuana Moments Tom Angell originally reported the change by the VA’s Office of Research & Development. Their website refers to earlier research on medical marijuana saying that in their review they “found limited evidence” where marijuana use helped reduce pain in some patients. In addition, it found that medical marijuana “might reduce spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis,” but found little evidence to determine the direct effect of marijuana on PTSD. VA doctors are not currently able to prescribe medical marijuana to Veterans, but they can look at marijuana as an option in treating medical problems faced by Veterans.
This leads many in the healthcare and marijuana industry to have hope in one day using medical marijuana as a possible treatment option for suffering Veterans. However, this new stance directly conflicts with VA Secretary David Shulkin’s recent letter that announced there would be no agency research on marijuana due to its federal classification as a Schedule I substance.
Shulkin’s letter was in direct response to a request for clarification made by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. The U.S. House members want the VA to begin investigating the potential effects of medical marijuana for veterans who suffer with chronic pain and PTSD. Representative Walz, ranking member of the House committee said that Shulkin’s response to their request was “disappointing and unacceptable.”
He went on to say that the VA did not answer their “simple question,” but that they also made an attempt to mislead the committee by claiming, “without citing any specific law, that VA is restricted from conducting research into medical cannabis, which is categorically untrue.”
It seems as if Shulkin has been caught pointing the finger at the FDA for the VA’s lack of interest in researching the benefits of medical marijuana for Veterans.
Pressure Towards the VA Mounts
A recent poll, funded by the American Legion, found that more than 9 out of 10 military veterans desire additional research into medical marijuana and its benefits in treating ailments faced by veterans every day. The new poll by the nation’s largest veterans service organization shows:
- More than ninety-two percent of veterans who support the expansion of research into medical marijuana
- Eighty-three percent of veterans believe that medical marijuana should be legalized by the federal government
- Over eighty percent also favor allowing VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients
American Legion spokesman, Joe Plenzler, told The Cannabist, “We already know that greater than 80% of the American public supports research into the efficacy of medical cannabis. What this survey shows is that America’s veterans feel even more strongly about the need to study cannabis and its potential in treating PTSD, chronic pain and other ailments veterans face every day.”
How the House Committee on Veterans Affairs is Helping
The 10-member group who sit on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, is currently urging the Trump administration to study the benefits of medical marijuana for military veterans. Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN) understands the importance of medical marijuana research and how access has become a critical issue to veterans.
The House Representatives who joined Walz in urging President Trump to act include:
- Mark Takano (D-CA)
- Julia Brownley (D-CA)
- Ann McKlane Kuster (D-NH)
- Beto O’Rourke (D-TX)
- Kathleen Rice (D-NY)
- J. Luis Correa (D-CA)
- Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-MP)
- Elizabeth Esty (D-CT)
- Scott Peters (D-CA)
In response, Congress passed a defense bill in December that opened the door for medical marijuana to be approved by the Department of Defense. President Trump signed HR-2810 into law on December 12 which gives the Department of Defense the authority to approve any medical devices or drugs for members of the armed forces, stepping on the toes of the FDA.