David Shulkin has been Veteran Affairs secretary for only a few months, but the physician has already started signaling his openness to radical reforms. On Wednesday, Shulkin told reporters that “there may be some evidence” that medical marijuana could help veterans — and that he wouldn’t be opposed to one day including it in their health care plans.
Shulkin’s openness comes after a request earlier this month by the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, that President Donald Trump “clear the way for clinical research in the cutting-edge areas of cannabinoid receptor research,” according a letter shared with Politico. After Shulkin gave a briefing about the various issues facing the Department of Veteran Affairs — which provides health care to 9 million veterans — a reporter asked the VA head about the American Legion’s request.
“I believe that everything that could help veterans should be debated by Congress and by medical experts,” Shulkin replied. “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.”
He added that while some of the states with “appropriate controls” have seen “some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful,” federal law prevents Department of Veterans Affairs doctors from prescribing medical marijuana.
In fact, right now, physicians with the VA are not even allowed to talk to patients about potentially using marijuana as a health aid.
Because marijuana is illegal at the federal level, there has been little research done into its effects on conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. While the VA’s website says “research suggests marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD,” scientists want more hard data. And some veterans disagree with the VA’s assessment, pointing to their own experience soothing PTSD symptoms with legalized marijuana.
But even Shulkin’s hedging stance on medical marijuana might be too optimistic for another member of Trump’s Cabinet: Attorney General Jeff Sessions. A vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, Sessions once told a roomful of marijuana reform opponents: “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”