The bills would allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana prescriptions to patients while another would kickstart veteran-related cannabis research.
A pair of key bills that could expand veterans’ access to medical marijuana passed in a House Committee this week. One piece of legislation would allow Veteran Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana prescriptions in states with legal programs, something doctors are currently prohibited to do. The second bill would direct the VA to conduct a clinical trial in the efficacy of marijuana in treating post-traumatic stress, chronic pain, and other health condition connected to service.
“We have been working for years to give veterans the opportunity to receive legal medical cannabis treatment for chronic pain and PTSD,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who introduced the first bill, told The Fresh Toast. “Even though this has been approved on the floor of the House in the past as an amendment to appropriations bills, it’s been stonewalled by Senate Republican leadership. This is the way forward to guarantee it becomes the law of the land.”
This action by the House Veterans Affairs Committee represents the first cannabis-related markup of legislation on Capitol Hill this year. The bills will now move to the House floor where they will receive a vote.
“Passing these bills should be the first order of business for a Congress that prides itself on supporting our veterans,” said Don Murphy, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project. “Like every American, veterans should be granted the freedom to access cannabis to treat their medical conditions as an alternative to potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals.”
Veterans can currently access medical marijuana only if they’re willing to go outside the VA network and pay out of pocket for expenses occurred, including their weed purchases. This is an accepted arrangement as stated on the VA’s website. VA leadership has opposed similar bills to these in the past, because marijuana remains a Schedule I drug at the federal level. So long as that remains true, the VA says it will follow the lead set by the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of Justice.
The 2020 election could play a significant role in the implementation of these bills, should they pass. President Donald Trump has displayed an anti-marijuana position recently, a shift from his campaign promises to leave cannabis legislation to the states. Democratic candidate Joe Biden intends to reschedule marijuana to a Schedule II drug, while his opponent Bernie Sanders says he would legalize adult-use cannabis through executive order during his first day in office.
Former VA secretary Dr. David Shulkin opposed the above measures in his time of office, but last year he walked back those previous statements.
“There is growing evidence that medical marijuana—I’m not talking about recreational marijuana—but properly prescribed, may have some real benefits in anxiety improvement, in pain management, and potentially, in the issue of substance abuse,” he said.
“I think the time is now,” Shulkin added. “I believe that the VA should be involved in research on anything that could potentially help veterans and improve their health and well-being.”