Although federal law is supposed to prohibit Veterans being treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs from participating in state medical marijuana programs, one Illinois dispensary claims it has teamed up with their neighborhood VA clinic in an effort to raise money for Vets who have been disabled as a result of amputation.
Throughout the entire month of May, Midwest Compassion Center in Romeoville says it will donate 10 percent of its net proceeds to amputee veterans currently undergoing treatment at Hines VA Hospital. The goal of this outreach program, according to co-owner Nicole van Rensburg, is to provide some financial assistance to this specific group of veterans because, “many of them are registered as medical cannabis patients.”
“Veterans are a group that pull on my heartstrings quite strongly,” Rensburg told Extract. “Amputated limbs is on the list of qualifying conditions in Illinois, so we chose to earmark that.”
However, the dispensary’s statement is somewhat confusing considering that the Department of Veterans Affairs currently maintains a policy that prohibits doctors employed with the VA from recommending or even discussing medical marijuana with their patients. In some cases, those veterans who have gone against the grain of the department’s anti-pot politics — using medical marijuana without VA consent — have been reprimanded, some of them even stripped of their right to medical treatment, including the loss of prescription painkillers privileges.
That’s because in the eyes of Uncle Sam, Veterans are free to use medical marijuana, as long as they no longer wish to continue receiving complimentary care from a doctor in the employ of the United States government. So, while veterans with amputated limbs may qualify to use medical marijuana in Illinois, they would need to secure a medical marijuana certification from a doctor not affiliated with the VA because federal law prohibits this department from facilitating the use of cannabis treatment.
Several attempts have been made over the past year to get the VA to relax its policies on medical marijuana. In January, twenty-one members of both the House and Senate signed a letter addressed to VA Secretary Robert McDonald advising the department to reconsider its current directive and put a new policy into place that allows vets to use medical marijuana without incurring penalties. Still, the VA’s old policy remains intact because no replacement was established at the time of its renewal period. This means that the type of partnership purportedly underway between Midwest Compassion and Hines VA Hospital could technically be a violation of federal law.
Strangely, Rensburg says 15-to-20 percent of the patients who purchase medical marijuana from Midwest Compassion Center are veterans – suggesting that regardless of federal law, veterans are finding ways to utilize their state’s medical marijuana programs without running into major issues with Uncle Sam. It also could indicate that some local VA clinics across the country may have gone rogue and are operating under less restrictive guidelines than VA headquarters in Washington D.C.
“We’re looking to form closer ties with that group in the future,” Rensburgh said.
As of right now, it remains unclear exactly how the Hines VA Hospital is able to work with a medical marijuana dispensary without catching heat from the higher ups. A message sent to the clinic asking for clarification did not bring about an immediate response.
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