Senate Appropriations Committee to Allow VA Doctors to Recommend Medical Marijuana to Veterans

An amendment to the Senate appropriations bill will block Veterans Affairs from interfering with doctors discussing the benefits of marijuana to veterans if it passes final hurdles.

Current statistics show that the suicide rate among veterans, many of whom suffer from PTSD, is 22 a day. That comes out to one every 65 minutes. And while just over half of Americans (51%) have access to medical marijuana, veterans are not among them.

However, that could change if lawmakers approve a recent amendment to next year’s appropriations bill.  

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved an amendment to the 2017 Military Construction Appropriations Bill that will open the door for veterans to use medical marijuana to relieve their symptoms.

The amendment was cosponsored by Senators Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Oreg.) and for the first time will allow doctors at the Department of Veteran Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to veterans living in states where it is legal and will bar the VA from using federal funds to interfere with veterans accessing medical marijuana.

“We should be doing everything we can to make life easier for our veterans,” said Sen. Merkley in a statement. “Prohibiting VA doctors from talking to their patients about medical marijuana just doesn’t make sense. The VA shouldn’t be taking legal treatment options off the table for veterans.”

Under current regulations, VA physicians can’t even talk about medical marijuana with veterans, despite the fact that many veterans are already using marijuana to self-medicate their symptoms. This holds to the VA’s position against medical marijuana, and veterans who test positive for THC are in danger of losing access to critical VA services.

The amendment passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee in a 20-10 vote that enjoyed bipartisan support. However, this is the second attempt by lawmakers to extend medical marijuana to veterans. A similar amendment was approved by the full senate last year but later removed from the law by the Republican controlled House of Representatives.

In January, a group of 21 lawmakers wrote to VA Secretary Bob McDonald, urging him to allow VA doctors to discuss and recommend medical marijuana for veterans.

The letter, signed by notorious cannabis advocates Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Barbara Boxer, claims that prohibitions against VA doctors discussing medical marijuana with their patients “disincentivizes doctors and patients from being honest with each other.”

The lawmakers go on to say, “It is not in the veterans’ best interest for the VA to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.”

The appropriations bill the amendment is attached to still needs to pass through the Senate and the House before becoming official policy. The VA hasn’t commented on the amendment, but on their website, the organization quotes an internal report dismissing marijuana’s usefulness in treating veterans.

“Controlled studies have not been conducted to evaluate the safety or effectiveness of medical marijuana for PTSD,” the report states. “Thus, there is no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD. In fact, research suggests that marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD.”

However, the DEA has recently approved a clinical study examining the potential benefits for those suffering from PTSD, meaning the VA will soon have the results of human trials for medical marijuana to consider.

In the interim, veterans looking to try CBD supplements can purchase products containing CBD hemp oil online and have them shipped directly to their home without needing a recommendation from their doctor or fear of losing their benefits.