If there’s one thing America loves, it’s talking about supporting the troops. But when it comes to actually walking the walk, the nation fails its veterans on a number of different levels — especially when it comes to dealing with their health issues in the aftermath of a combat tour or five.
A new bill, dubbed The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, attempts to ameliorate some of this harm by allowing VA doctors to recommend cannabis therapy for their patients —something that they are currently unable to do, even in the 33 states with established and regulated medical marijuana programs.
A New Safety Net for Patients
The bill was introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D — CA) in the House of Representatives and by Sen. Brian Schatz (D — HI) in the Senate, with Sen. Tim Kaine cosponsoring, on Feb. 13. It would establish a five-year window in which VA doctors could give their patients access to medical marijuana through the same means non-VA doctors do, by filing the mandatory paperwork, without fear of repercussions or sanctions from the federal government.
Additionally, the bill would fund VA research into how medical marijuana can be used to help veterans deal with issues like chronic pain management and reduction of opioid abuse.
Lee shared her personal ties to the military and supporting veterans in a statement that announced the bill’s introduction.
“As the daughter of a veteran, I am committed to ensuring that our veterans have access to the quality and comprehensive medical care they deserve – including medical marijuana. The current federal prohibitions on cannabis are unnecessary, harmful, and counterproductive,” said Lee. “The federal government should never stand between our veterans and their medicine. This critical legislation is a long overdue step to empower veterans and their doctors to make informed health care decisions, without political interference.”
Schatz also issued a comment upon the bill’s introduction that highlighted how funding VA research could do more than just help ailing veterans – it could also help tackle the national opioid crisis.
“In 33 states, doctors and their patients have the option to use medical marijuana to manage pain — unless those doctors work for the VA and their patients are veterans,” Schatz said. “This bill gives VA doctors in these states the option to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, and it also promises to shed light on how medical marijuana can help with the nation’s opioid epidemic.”
Support From Advocates
According to a press release from Schatz’s office, a number of advocacy groups have already thrown their support behind the bill, including the American Academy of Pain Medicine, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans Cannabis Coalition, NORML, National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), Americans for Safe Association, Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance and Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
NORML’s political director Justin Strekal released a statement praising the bill on Wednesday as a good way to rectify the current barriers veterans face in accessing medical marijuana, even in states where it’s fully legal.
“The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would provide crucial medical and civil protections for the men and women who put their lives on the line to serve this country. It is unconscionable that these brave individuals who protect our nation’s freedoms would be treated as criminals when they return home just for treating their medical ailments with a safe and effective option,” Strekal said. “We applaud and appreciate the leadership by Senator Schatz and Rep. Lee in putting forward this legislation.”
It remains to be seen how the bill will fare in Congress — but given recent upward trends in the American public’s attitude towards cannabis, one can only hope that this bill will make its way into law and VA doctors will be allowed to help patients in need get the help they deserve.
TELL US, do you know a veteran who uses marijuana to cope with a health problem?