The U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs recently confirmed that a key position in the department had been filled after the Senate voted to confirm President Joseph Biden’s nominee: Shereef Elnahal. In the past, Elnahal has served as the state health commissioner in New Jersey. He helped expand the medical cannabis program in the state while also advocating for the federal legalization of cannabis.
Elnahal, who has been appointed as the Undersecretary of Health at the VA, will be in charge of leading a central division of the VA that has, up until now, prevented doctors from issuing medical marijuana recommendations to military veterans. In a statement, Elnahal talked about how he had run the medical cannabis program in New Jersey, making it easier for veterans to enroll in the program. He has in the past made it clear how he feels about the status of cannabis as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act.
In 2018, he tweeted that marijuana needed to be descheduled at the federal level; he also listed complications of the state-federal policy conflict, which include limited access at health care facilities, inadequate research funding and high costs for patients.
During Elnahal’s confirmation hearing, Senator Dan Sullivan spoke about his marijuana regulatory background and also expressed frustration over the VA’s opposition to legislation, which would promote research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis for conditions which commonly affected the veteran population. Sullivan also asked Elnahal whether he’d observed any benefits from his cannabis regulatory work.
Sen. Jon Tester, who cosponsored the VA marijuana research bill with Sullivan, stated that he was aware of the many health conditions that individuals used cannabis to treat. He noted that he’d be fully on board if there was evidence that supported the use of marijuana as an alternative to dangerous medications, but he added that science needed to support the plant’s medical uses.
Despite the VA testifying against modest marijuana initiatives time and again, this hasn’t stopped legislators from filing and advancing measures and amendments to revise the department’s directives and force policy changes. For instance, the House recently approved an amendment that tackled the issue of permitting VA doctors to issue medical marijuana recommendations to veterans. However, it remains unclear which direction the Senate will take on the matter.
Meanwhile, other bipartisan legislators have directed attention toward veteran and cannabis-related issues, with the House taking up an Appropriations and Defense Bill for the 2023 Fiscal Year.
If the federal government continues on this trajectory of appointing progressive people to key policymaking positions, it may not be long before marijuana prohibition is ended and the sales of ancillary entities such as Advanced Container Technologies Inc. (OTC: ACTX) explode as a wider market is opened for their products.
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