Today, when the U.S. House of Representatives meets to discuss the 2017 Military Construction Appropriations bill (H.R. 4974), Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon plans to introduce a rider aimed at preventing Uncle Sam from dipping into the federal coffers to stop physicians employed with the Department of Veterans Affairs from discussing medical marijuana with their patients.
The proposal, which has been deemed the “Veterans Equal Access” amendment, would simply make it illegal for federal tax dollars to be spent to prevent VA doctors from providing their patients with medical marijuana recommendations. It would also take the issue a step further by ensuring that no veteran who tests positive for THC metabolites would be subject to penalties for consuming a substance that remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government.
“It’s wrong and unfair to force our veterans outside of the VA system to simply seek a recommendation on whether or not medical marijuana is a good treatment option,” Blumenauer told Cannabis Now in an emailed statement. “And, our VA physicians should not be denied the ability to offer such a recommendation if they think it may meet the needs of their patient.”
Last month, a key Senate committee put its seal of approval on a similar amendment. It too is intended to prevent Veterans Affairs from spending money to impose policies that keep VA physicians from having open and honest conversations with their patients about the benefits of cannabis treatment. Of course, it was no surprise that the Senate panel cast a favorable vote – the upper chamber also passed the rider for inclusion in the Fiscal Year 2016 federal budget.
Unfortunately, the concept of not interfering with VA doctors and their patients has not been so widely received in the House. In 2014, Blumenauer’s attempt as getting the amendment pushed through was ripped to shreds by the lower chamber in a vote of 195-to-222. However, the situation vastly improved last year – although the amendment was ultimately shot down, it was a narrow miss, snuffed out by two measly votes. It is for this reason that there is now a great deal of optimism surrounding Blumenauer’s latest effort. Many advocates believe there is a distinct possibility the two votes that prevented the rider from being recognized in 2015 will be swayed in the opposite direction.
“We received more support to fix this situation than ever before last year,” Blumenauer said. “I hope we can build on that support and that my colleagues will show compassion and do what’s right for our veterans.”
While it has been a long road for veterans working to gain access to medical marijuana, which has often meant testing THC-free in order to continue receiving complimentary healthcare, as long as both Congressional chambers end up agreeing that the veterans provision should be wrapped up in the Military Construction Appropriations bill, it stands a better than average chance at being included in the final federal spending bill that will be signed into law later this year by President Obama.
It is important to understand that, even if the rider goes the distance in 2016, it will only provide veterans with a temporary solution toward gaining access to medical marijuana. Yet for those vets suffering from debilitating conditions, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and chronic pain, any level of improvement to the current policy is sure to be welcomed with open arms.
Do veterans deserve medical marijuana? Tell us what you think.