News, Politics

Will the Newly Elected Pro-Cannabis VA Official Embrace Medical Cannabis for Veterans?

August 21, 2022 06:30 am ET
Will the Newly Elected Pro-Cannabis VA Official Embrace Medical Cannabis for Veterans?

For years now, the very men and women who have laid their lives on the line to protect our country, as well as those actively serving who are under the care of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), have basically been denied the right to utilize medicinal cannabis or cannabis in retail markets nationwide. This all could, however, change in the coming days, as an official with a past of supporting cannabis reform has been confirmed by the Senate as the VA’s new undersecretary of health.

Dr. Shereef Elnahal previously worked to improve the medical cannabis program in New Jersey as a state health commissioner. In his newly elected position, which he is expected to be sworn into soon, he will be filling a position in a key division of the VA that has administratively caused many conflicts that have ultimately prevented doctors at the VA from recommending medical cannabis to veterans.

Does Elnahal Mean Positive Reform for Veterans?

Will the newly appointed Elnahal help sway the VA to embrace cannabis treatment for veterans? This is a question that many people, including cannabis activists and veterans, are asking themselves. Over the years, Elnahal has been outspoken regarding his viewpoints on how cannabis needs to be descheduled at the federal level. In a tweet from 2018, he addressed a few of the issues that exist regarding medical cannabis due to the federal illegality referencing limited research funding, high cost for patients, and the lack of access to medicinal cannabis in places such as nursing homes and hospitals.

In a more recent confirmation hearing before the Senate’s veterans affairs committee earlier this year, he noted how this is a very complex issue and how he will commit to having “these discussions with leadership across the administration, but also with this committee, and try to set up next steps.” Congressional Cannabis Caucus Co-chair Rep. Dave Joyce, whose father was a World War II veteran, is happy about Elnahal’s recent acceptance to this position and stated the following in an interview with Marijuana Moment:

“I’m pleased to see the bipartisan confirmation of Dr. Shereef Elnahal. The undersecretary of health is a critically important position at the VA, and it has been vacant for far too long. I look forward to working with Dr. Elnahal to ensure that veterans get the health care they deserve and have earned, including increased medical cannabis access in states that have chosen to make it legal.

A Previous Track Record of Cannabis Positivity

The big question is just how much authority does he have as the VA undersecretary of health to make the desired changes? Unfortunately, the answer to that question isn’t known as far as what he can do to provoke VA-led research on cannabis or influence administrative cannabis policy changes, and only time will tell. On numerous occasions, however, when serving as the New Jersey health commissioner, Elnahal spoke regarding many different aspects pertaining to medical cannabis.

He has expressed knowledge of cannabis’s generally safe side effect profile referencing how the risk for potential addiction, dependence, overdose, and even death is nearly non-existent and extremely lower with cannabis in comparison to prescribed opioids. During his time in this position, he advocated the need for evidence-based research supporting cannabis’ efficiency in supplementing the use of dangerous pharmaceuticals for a wide range of conditions and ailments.

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When it comes to direct changes that occurred under his oversight as the commissioner, the list is abundant. Policy changes regarding the medical cannabis program in New Jersey that were overseen by Elnahal include:

  • The addition of several new qualifying conditions
  • The approval of new types of products for patients
  • Lower registration fees to access the medical cannabis program
  • An increase in the number of primary caregivers patients could have under the program


He doesn’t just talk the talk either; he walks the walk and once participated in a tour in which he visited local health care facilities around the state, encouraging the participation of medical health professionals in the cannabis program.

With the campaign promises that Biden made falling off the curb, it is good to see other elected officials that may be able to bring forth change being nominated and elected for positions that may allow them to do just that. Biden’s presidential campaign touched on various cannabis reform proposals, like letting states have their own cannabis laws, opening up the ability for previous federal cannabis records to be expunged, and perhaps even rescheduling the plant. These proposals, though, seem to be no longer on his agenda now that he is in office.

Veterans Deserve and Desperately Need Access to Cannabis

There are many common conditions and ailments that veterans face that can be alleviated with the use of cannabinoid therapies. Hopefully, with more cannabis-positive representatives being elected to various positions that hold control over veterans being able to access cannabis legally, we will start to see positive changes in this area. Cannabis offers a much safer alternative to pharmaceuticals for things such as depression, chronic pain, anxiety, and PTSD, which are all common among the veteran population.

Aside from the many existing research studies that have shown the potential value of cannabis in the realm of treating these disease subsets, there are also countless numbers of anecdotal stories from veterans who have utilized cannabis firsthand with great success. Researchers are also greatly interested in the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoids for veterans.

Dr. Leslie Lundhahl, associate professor of the department of psychiatry and neurosciences at Wayne State University School of Medicine, and her team will be leading a research study to find out how CBD and THC may help with PTSD. This study is being funded by tax revenue from cannabis sales in Michigan. The research team is currently seeking veterans to participate in the study. If you or a loved one live in Michigan and are interested in participating in this study, you can learn more here.

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