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Bill Filed to Expand Veterans’ Access to Medical Marijuana Has Promising Path to Passage

Bill Filed to Expand Veteran Access to Cannabis
Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

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Bill Filed to Expand Veterans’ Access to Medical Marijuana Has Promising Path to Passage

Advocates say that, unlike in years past, this time the bill could be championed by the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives.

One of the biggest champions for cannabis in Congress is again taking up the fight to get veterans expanded access to medical marijuana.

Congressional Cannabis Caucus founder Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon recently filed the Veterans Equal Access Act, which would remove current restrictions on Veterans Administration (VA) doctors around medical cannabis.

In the current state of affairs, physicians working within the VA are essentially banned from writing a medical marijuana recommendation or anything that looks like one. This forces many veterans to spend money out of their own pockets on the medical services required to get that recommendation outside of the V.A. medical network they have access to. If Blumenauer’s H.R. 1647 passes, it will lift that ban.

“For too long, our veterans have been denied access to highly effective medical marijuana treatment for conditions like chronic pain and PTSD. Medical marijuana has shown proven benefits for treating these conditions denying our veterans access to them is shameful,” Blumenauer said in a statement at the time of the bill’s introduction on March 14.

Blumenauer, an expert at pushing cannabis policy on the Hill, chose to highlight the move as more about alignment with states rather than a radical policy shift.

“This simple bill would align veterans’ VA treatment with their very popular state laws, usually approved by the voters. This legislation would guarantee our veterans fair and equal treatment, along with the ability to consult with their own physician on all treatment options. It’s past time we provide them with the care they need and deserve,” Blumenauer said.

At the moment, the leadership in Congress is the most friendly towards cannabis that has ever served during Blumenauer’s time, which began in 1996. Previously, he’s had to deal with House Republicans putting the breaks on the language that would have accomplished H.R. 1647’s goals. NORML notes that, during the 114th Congress in 2016, the language for veteran access to marijuana passed both houses of Congress as part of the military’s 2017 budget, but the Republican leadership of the House Appropriations Committee chose to drop it in the final stages.

Former Americans for Safe Access Director of Government Affairs Mike Liszewski was part of the effort three years ago to make expanded cannabis access for vets a reality. Since then, he founded Enact Group, where he focuses on lobbying and consulting, specializing in cannabis and drug policy reform.

“With Democrats now in control of the House, there is an excellent chance for passage of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment in the House.”

“With Democrats now in control of the House, there is an excellent chance for passage of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment in the House,” Liszewski told Cannabis Now. “It passed with strong support when it last came for a vote in 2016 and was only denied a vote the past two years because then-Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions blocked all cannabis amendments from receiving a floor vote.”

Liszewski says the three years since the previous vote on the amendment, public support for federal cannabis reform has only increased, all of which speaks well to its chances of passing the House this year.

In many circumstances, veterans can get access to programs that help them with the costs of their medical cannabis habit, but even in legal states, much of the time a doctor’s recommendation is required. That recommendation may run $40 in California but could run into the hundreds in other states. For disabled veterans living on a fixed income, getting access to medical marijuana could prove beyond their means.

And veterans are certainly using medical cannabis. The veterans organization American Legion reported in 2017 that a quarter of its membership was willing to self-report the fact they were using marijuana to deal with a physical condition. The survey also noted 92 percent of veteran households support research into the efficacy of medical cannabis for mental and physical conditions. The Legion announced two years ago it would be supporting efforts around veterans access to medical cannabis.

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