Senate confirms key VA officials who expanded New Jersey’s medical marijuana program and supported federal legalization

With key U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) seats filling up, the Senate will vote to confirm the candidate who previously helped oversee and expand New Jersey’s medical marijuana program and advocated for federal legalization. I did.

Shereef Elnahal, who was nominated by President Joe Biden as VA Under Secretary of Health, will be charged with leading a key branch of the department that has historically administratively prevented veterans’ doctors from issuing medical marijuana recommendations to veterans.

Elnahal not only worked diligently to regulate and improve New Jersey’s medical cannabis program as state health commissioner from 2018 to 2019, but he personally believes the federal ban must end. also made it clear. And now he’s been confirmed in Thursday’s Senate vote to put him at the top of his VA slot with a vote of 66-23. He is scheduled to take the oath this week.

At a confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in April, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) brought up El Najal’s background on cannabis regulation, stating that the VA would promote clinical research on cannabis (his own expressed dissatisfaction with its consistent opposition to Marijuana’s therapeutic potential for conditions that commonly afflict the veteran population.

While serving as New Jersey’s health commissioner, the now-identified official ran the medical marijuana program and “expanded access to the program statewide and made it easier for veterans to enroll. ” says.

“As you know, Senator, this issue is very complicated from a national perspective and a federal perspective because it’s still a Schedule I drug.” Please set the steps for “

Watch a conversation about medical cannabis and veterans starting around 02:03:15 in the video below.

It remains to be seen how much he will say on the issue as a federal official, but Elnahal has made it clear in the past that he feels the restrictive status of marijuana should change.

In 2018, he tweeted that cannabis “needs to be descheduled at the federal level.”

Patients using #MedicalMarijuana need better care,” he wrote, citing federal and state policies such as the high cost of cannabis and lack of authorized access in medical facilities. I mentioned the complexity of the conflict.

At the confirmation hearing, Sullivan followed up by asking if the candidate saw “benefits or takeaways” from his marijuana control work, especially as it pertains to cannabis-treated veterans.

“Done. I acted as an advocate for the entire program for all patients who qualify for a specific condition. It’s a condition-based system,” he said. “But the intersection with federal law wasn’t something I had to grapple with at the time, so it would be a layer of problems that would have to be addressed if it were confirmed.”

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), who chaired the committee and sponsored the VA cannabis research bill with Sullivan, said he was aware of the many health conditions people use marijuana to treat, and he said he was “fully committed.” I will do my best,” he said. If there was evidence to support that cannabis could replace dangerous pharmaceutical use. thinking.

“We should do this research, and if it requires congressional action, we will do it,” Tester said. We look forward to actively encouraging the VA to do so.”

Meanwhile, other bipartisan lawmakers have paid greater attention to issues related to marijuana and veterans, including this month when the House took up the Appropriations and Defense Act for fiscal year 2023.

The VA under several administrations has repeatedly testified against modest cannabis policies, with members of both sides submitting bills and amendments to force policy changes and amend VA directives. and has not stopped moving forward.

For example, a bipartisan coalition of House members recently launched a veterans health administration (VHA) directive in 2017 that prohibits the Department of Veterans Affairs from using its funds to issue medical marijuana. attempted to attach language to a series of spending measures that prevented the implementation of Advise veterans and block the Department of Veterans Affairs from covering the cost of medical marijuana. (As VA Undersecretary, Elnahal heads his VHA.)

The amendments introduced are the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus Dave Joyce (R-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Brian Mast (R- Florida). However, it was not drafted in order by the Rules Committee, and the leadership of the Committee kept it out of consideration on the floor for procedural reasons.

Separately, as part of the Defense Bill, an amendment recently passed the House to address the issue of allowing veterans’ doctors to issue medical marijuana recommendations to veterans, but the Senate did not approve it. It’s unclear if this will continue.

In any case, the Veterans Affairs Association itself has also become a bureaucratic headache for legislators who feel obligated to enact reforms that enjoy broad public support, including many of the veterans’ communities. To that end, Joyce said in a statement to her Marijuana Moment on Friday that she was “delighted to see Dr. Shereef Elnahal’s bipartisan confirmation.”

“The undersecretary of health is a very important position in the Department of Veterans Affairs and has been vacant for a very long time,” said Joyce, whose father was a World War II veteran. “We look forward to working with Dr. Ernajal to ensure veterans get the health care they deserve, including increased access to medical marijuana in states that choose to legalize it. ”

It’s not clear how much power Elnahal has to unilaterally reform the administration’s marijuana policy or spur additional VA-led research on cannabis, but his confirmation is that this It will be welcomed by advocates and veterans’ organizations pushing for departmental policy change on the issue. Many years.

In 2018, then-New Jersey health commissioner El Najal said the medical community was reluctant to accept cannabis as a legitimate treatment, saying that recreational use “accumulates over time. The stigma was widespread, and false narratives were created.

“Of course it has been used illegally for those [recreational] There are many therapeutic benefits, for reasons,” he said.

“The side effect profile, especially the risk of dependence, addiction, overdose, and death, is all much lower and non-existent with marijuana and opioids,” he said. We don’t endorse it, we can only recommend it as a first-line treatment.It’s still a clinical decision.”

Proponents have been encouraged by New Jersey regulators like El Najal to expand the state’s medical cannabis programs, which saw a significant increase in the number of enrolled patients during his tenure, but the number of patients who were easily We also realized that we needed to do more to allow access to the . Affordable product, especially in conditions where home cultivation is not allowed.

“The impatience is justified,” he told Insider NJ in 2018, adding that the public pressure his office has faced over barriers to access “holds us accountable and helps us understand how patients I try not to lose sight of how I feel,” he added. He said he may not want to receive critical of his Twitter posts from those demanding faster reforms, but even such informal feedback can “lead to action.”

At the time, the commissioner wanted to add new eligibility criteria, lower registration fees, allow patients to have more primary caregivers, eliminate strain limits, and approve additional forms of care for the state of New Jersey. oversaw a number of medical cannabis policy changes enacted in

The news that more patients are enrolling in New Jersey’s medical cannabis system is applauded by El Najal, who said in 2018, “We are building a compassionate, consumer-friendly program.” but “our work is not done”

“More physicians should look to medical marijuana as a safe and effective treatment that not only improves the health of their patients, but also helps fight the opioid crisis,” he said. Told.

Elnajal also took part in lecture tours visiting hospitals and medical facilities around New Jersey, encouraging doctors to join medical cannabis programs.

In another notable development from the recent Biden administration, the president’s judicial nominee for a major federal court of appeals helped create the Marijuana Legalization Vote Initiative in Arizona and led national cannabis advocacy groups. also played a role.

Also last year, Biden named a White House drug lord who played a key role in overseeing the implementation and expansion of West Virginia’s medical marijuana program. It publicly acknowledges both the therapeutic and economic potential of reform.

As far as advocates are concerned, part of the reason these nominations matter is because Biden made modest marijuana reform proposals like rescheduling the plant, expunging previous federal cannabis records, and allowing states to set their own policies. Because while he campaigned for , he still hasn’t kept pace. With the public, especially his party, as a consistent opponent of the legalization of adult use.

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Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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