On June 21st, Senator Donnelly added his name as a cosponsor of the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018 (S. 2796), his first step into the arena of cannabis legislation. The bill was originally introduced into the House by Representative Timothy Walz on April 16th, and a Senate version of the bill was introduced by Representative Jon Tester on May 3rd. While the House version currently has 55 cosponsors, Donnelly is the second cosponsor of the Senate bill. In light of this development, he has also revised his standard form response to constituents who write his office about cannabis issues. Here is an excerpt from his new response:

“In the midst of the opioid crisis, I have heard from many Hoosiers and veterans that marijuana has the potential to help treat conditions such as chronic pain and PTSD, and I believe that we have a responsibility to look closely at safe, alternative treatments. That is why, on June 21, 2018, I cosponsored S. 2796, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act. If enacted into law, this bill would authorize the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct and support research into the efficacy and safety of cannabis on the health outcomes of veterans diagnosed with certain conditions. The legislation would also require the VA to report to Congress on how it intends to exercise its research into medicinal cannabis and how its research is progressing. Currently, this bill is pending before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.”

Pressure from his constituents is clearly resulting in a shift of opinion. Senator Joe Donnelly, along with his general election challenger Mike Braun, both attended the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Department of Indiana state convention on June 2nd. The only resolution passed during the state convention was a resolution in support of legal access to cannabis for medical purposes. This development marked the third “Big Four” veterans group in Indiana to pass a resolution in support of medical cannabis, following in the footsteps of the American Legion Department of Indiana and AMVETS Department of Indiana. Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis founder Jeff Staker was able to briefly discuss medical cannabis with both Donnelly and Braun while attending the event.

In addition to the explicit support of several veterans groups, during the Indiana Democrat Party state convention on June 16th, a 2018 party platform containing two statements about cannabis was approved. “We will work with law enforcement agencies, health care groups and other stakeholders to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana,” the platform states, as well as that, “Indiana Democrats believe that Hoosiers should have the right to vote on the regulation and taxation of marijuana.” Just days later, Donnelly announced his support for the VA research bill. Mathew Bumbalough, secretary of the Indiana Democratic Veterans Caucus and chair of its 9th Congressional district division, commented that, “Studies show again and again that legalization of medical cannabis has positive results, and it is time for Indiana and the rest of the U.S. to push our legislators to realize this. I believe Senator Donnelly has the capacity to evolve on this issue, especially after announcing his support of the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act.” Bumbalough is also a member of the American Legion and the Indiana Young Democrats.

So, is Senator Donnelly diving into the issue of cannabis reform? It doesn’t seem like it. But he is definitely dipping his toes in the water and testing the reaction. It remains to be seen how quick of an evolution Donnelly might be on track to experience, although it is possible that his current reelection efforts might be serving as a catalyst for his sudden entrance into the cannabis conversation. Joe Donnelly will be on the the November ballot alongside Republican Mike Braun, who believes that medical cannabis should be a state’s prerogative, and Libertarian Lucy Brenton, who supports ending prohibition.

Constituents wishing to contact Senator Donnelly to explain their views on cannabis can do so using the email form on his website.