Lawmakers passed legislation aimed to stop the United States Department of Veterans Affairs from interfering with veterans seeking their doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana.
Congress has given VA doctors the ability to discuss medical marijuana with veterans. We first introduced this issue when the amendments were in their infancy, applauding the measures as a necessary step for equal access to medical marijuana. The measures gained overwhelming support in voting with both the House and the Senate have passing amendments to their military construction and VA appropriations bills that give veterans the right to obtain recommendations for medical marijuana from their doctors. The legislation prohibits the VA from using federal funds to enforce its policy limiting doctors from recommending marijuana, freeing doctors to suggest medical marijuana to their patients free from fear of reprisals.
The House amendment was put forth by Representative Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore, a longtime advocate for marijuana reform and veterans rights, sponsoring or co-sponsoring legislation concerning both. Rep. Blumenauer has also supported efforts aimed at reducing opioid use in the past.
“The death rate from opioids among VA health care is nearly double the national average,” Blumenauer said during the debate over his amendment. “From what I hear from veterans is that medical marijuana has helped them deal with pain and PTSD, particularly as an alternative to opioids.”
The legislation will remove barriers to doctors in medical marijuana states from discussing marijuana as a treatment option and completing the paperwork needed by the veterans for access to MMJ. However, the bills don’t allow the VA to provide marijuana to veterans or cover the cost of medical marijuana.
While some lawmakers opposed the bills, saying that Congress should defer to medical professionals and the FDA on issues like medical marijuana, supporters of the bills remarked that this legislation allowed doctors and veterans to discuss all treatment options, a decision meant to be made in close consultation with one’s doctor.
Although the amendments have passed through Congress, the bill will still need to be signed into law by President Obama, an act that is presumed will take place.
Currently, 51% of Americans live in one of the 24 medical marijuana states in the U.S. However, with the new legislation only applying to those with access to medical marijuana, many vets will still be left outside the system.
In a press release, Brandon Wyatt, Iraq War veteran, lawyer, and activist, reminds lawmakers there is still much to do: “The job is not finished because this legislation does not allow all veterans to be provided with the quality healthcare they need in order to be free of the fear of having to self-medicate. Easier access doesn’t equate to equal access.”
The DEA has recently given the go ahead to the first clinical study to examine the link between cannabis and PTSD. The controversial study has been six years in the making and is currently waiting on the delivery of approved research grade marijuana from the NIDA. With 22 veteran suicides in this country each day, this is an area greatly in need of effective treatment. Although the results of the study are still a couple years away, veterans and marijuana activists are both cheering the approval by the DEA as a critical step.
Medical Marijuana, Inc. supports access to medical marijuana for all who need it. During the Christmas season in 2014, AXIM Biotechnologies donated boxes of its CanChew® hemp oil gum to military veterans through the non-profit “Adopt-a-Soldier Platoon”, an act that earned them the respect of veterans everywhere and the honor of receiving an American flag taken on a helicopter mission and flown outside the military hospital at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan.