The Department of Veterans Affairs said this week it does not have the authority to research medical marijuana on America's veterans.
VA Secretary David Shulkin wrote a letter to Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., and explained the department's guidelines.
"VA is committed to researching and developing effective ways to help veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain conditions," Shulkin wrote to the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, according to The Washington Post. "However, federal law restricts VA's ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana, or to refer veterans to such projects."
Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states plus the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Several states also allow recreational use of marijuana.
In the eyes of the federal government, however, marijuana is still illegal. That prompted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to crack down on the drug's use last month, as he gave federal prosecutors the power to decide where to enforce federal drug laws — even in states where marijuana is legal.
An American Legion survey found in November that 83 percent of veteran households want medical marijuana legalized at the federal level.
The VA is grappling with the problem of opioid addiction by being transparent about how its doctors prescribe pain medicine. Last week, the department announced it will release its opioid prescribing rates twice a year, in January and July.
"Many veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare system suffer from high rates of chronic pain and the prescribing of opioids may be necessary medically," Shulkin said. "And while VA offers other pain-management options to reduce the need for opioids, it is important that we are transparent on how we prescribe opioids, so veterans and the public can see what we are doing in our facilities and the progress we have made over time."
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