Congress has once again turned its back on military veterans, with the majority voting against a proposal that would have allowed physicians working with the Veterans Administration (VA) to discuss medical marijuana with their patients.
When lawmakers gathered on Capitol Hill to negotiate the terms of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, they were presented with an amendment submitted by Representative Earl Blumenauer aimed at preventing federal budgets from being used to ban VA doctors from uttering the words “medical marijuana” when discussing potential treatment options for veterans. The goal of the measure wasn’t to give these medical professionals the authority to prescribe the herb, but rather open the dialogue to determine whether medicinal cannabis might be a suitable alternative to pharmaceutical drugs.
In a statement released just days before the congressional vote, Blumenauer said: “States are listening to their residents on the benefits of medical marijuana, including veterans, and are changing their laws. It is unacceptable for our wounded warriors to be forced out of the VA system to simply seek a recommendation on whether or not medical marijuana is a good treatment option. We should not be preventing access to medicine that can help them deal with these injuries to survive and thrive.”
Democratic lawmakers, of course, entered the debate anticipating a substantial amount of resistance from the Republican-dominated House, but they were surprised that, at the end of the day, this commonsense amendment only missed by three votes. Yet, while it’s true that any progress can be chalked up as success (last year the same proposal failed by 27 votes), Blumenauer and other supporters of the “Equal Access Amendment” expressed immense disappointment in the idea of the federal government not allowing people who fought for our country to consume a plant that has been legalized for medicinal use in nearly half the United States.
“Last night, the House of Representatives narrowly defeated my proposal, which would have allowed veterans to consult with VA doctors about medical marijuana in states where medical marijuana is legal,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “While the defeat was frustrating, it demonstrated support in the first vote on marijuana policy in this Congress.”
Perhaps an indication as to why even a modest issue pertaining to marijuana still can’t manage to catch a break inside the chambers of Congress revolves around the comments of lawmakers like Representative John Fleming of Louisiana. During the House session, Fleming testified that he would not support any measure that puts marijuana in the hands of veterans because he believes it will turn them into raving lunatics.
“As a practicing physician and a veteran myself,” said Fleming, “the way we approach healthcare is not to just allow any healthcare provider to do whatever he or she wants to do at the time. That is simply not the way healthcare works.”
“Why in the world would we give a drug that is addictive, that is prohibited under Schedule I, that is not accepted for any specific mental disease or disorder and enhances psychosis and schizophrenia, why are we going to give that to our veterans, especially those with PTSD? That is just absolutely insane.”
However, Blumenauer quickly jumped in to overcome Fleming’s reverberations of propaganda by arguing that it’s actually prescription painkillers that threaten the well being of these men and women, while a legal alternative is out there that could be saving lives.
“Medical marijuana is nowhere near as addictive as what is happening to our veterans right now,” said Blumenauer. “Veterans seen by agency doctors are dying from prescription drug overdoses nearly twice the national average.”
“Nobody dies from an overdose of marijuana,” Blumenauer went on to explain, “and the VA doctors prescribe significantly more opiates, which are highly addictive, to patients with PTSD and depression than other veterans, even though those people suffering those conditions are more at risk of overdose and suicide. Get your facts straight.”
Surprisingly, the majority of the opposing forces did not vote against the amendment because of the reflections of Reefer Madness expressed by Representative Fleming. Most of Congress simply referred back to the Controlled Substances Act and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s current Schedule I classification of the cannabis plant as their reasoning for not siding with the cause.
While the amendment, once again, failed to pass, Blumenauer seems to believe that the issue has come to a turning point – stating that despite some of his opponents providing false information, he still managed to collect more support than last year.
“All in all, this is an extraordinarily strong showing,” he continued. “This year’s much closer vote signals that we are in an excellent position to be able to pass simple, commonsense legislation to deal with the realities of the legal business of marijuana across the country – including legislation to allow state-legal marijuana businesses to deduct business expenses and to no longer have to operate on a cash-only basis.”
Unfortunately, while progress is being made, veterans residing in the 23 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized medical marijuana remain without access to medicine that has been shown effective in easing the symptoms of common mental and physical conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and chronic pain.
Marijuana advocates across the county seem to share in Blumenauer’s enthusiasm for the future and believe the element of change is right around the corner. Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, said that while the House vote is disappointing, it is “a good sign of things to come.”
Are you a veteran that would benefit from medical cannabis? Share your thoughts in the comments.