Safe Cannabis Access for Veterans Moves Forward in Congress
A major Senate committee has approved an amendment to the military appropriations bill that would allow military veterans in legal cannabis states to access cannabis medicine.
The recent progress of the “Veterans Equal Access” amendment in the Senate (it passed the Appropriations Committee on a 24 to 7 vote) is good news, but neither veterans, their advocates nor anyone else invested in safe access to legal cannabis should celebrate quite yet.
We’ve reached this same stage before — just last year — but then the bill hit the House Republicans boss level the only thing left on the screen was “game over” for the amendment.
And some military vets — even in several states where medical-marijuana is legal — would still have to break the law to obtain medicine under the new bill, because PTSD is not yet a qualifying health problem for legal cannabis access in their state.
Since 2001, 2.7 million men and women have been deployed to war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to an official Veterans Administration estimate, as many as 30 percent of them came home with PTSD.
In the last decade, the VA’s game plan for handling vets with PTSD has been to drown them in opiates. As anyone who’s read the news knows, this doesn’t work. It also causes more harm than good. Instead of having PTSD, you have PTSD and a life-threatening opiate habit.
As it happens, medical marijuana appears to work magic with PTSD. In 2014, a major review found reductions of more than 75 percent in PTSD symptoms among veterans who tried cannabis as therapy. As a result, there is immense pressure on Congress to allow veterans from America’s ongoing wars in the Middle East to access medical marijuana legally — which they currently cannot do within the VA health system.
Despite this, and despite heaps of anecdotes from veterans who swear that cannabis is both a more effective and less harmful treatment for pain than opiates (and that cannabis is about the only effective tool for PTSD), the official line from the Veterans Administration is that there’s no evidence at all marijuana is a useful treatment for military veterans. Vets who do discuss weed with their doctors also risk losing what VA health services they enjoy.
As Politico reported, the country’s “most conservative” veterans’ advocacy organization, the venerable American Legion, has lobbied Congress and the Trump Administration to lift draconian restrictions on veterans access that prohibit VA doctors from writing their patients medical cannabis recommendations.
“We need solutions,” said Nick Etten, a former Navy SEAL who runs the Veterans Cannabis Project, a health policy organization, in comments printed in Politico in May. “We need treatment that works. We need treatment that is not destructive. The VA has been throwing opiates at veterans for almost every condition for the last 15 years. You are looking at a system that has made a problem worse the way they have approached treatment.”
As NORML reported, veterans cannabis access cleared a Senate committee last year, only to be removed by House Republicans in the Appropriations Committee. Whether the issue will survive this year is now in the hands of the same crew that’s seeking to remove health care from more than 20 million other Americans in low-income states through the repeal of Obamacare and its massive expansion of Medicare.
Meanwhile, in New York State, the addition of PTSD to the list of qualifying health conditions is now up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. A bill that does just that passed both houses of the state Legislature and is now awaiting Cuomo’s signature. Is his pen ready? Will he sign? He won’t say, and won’t really say what’s holding him back.
“We want to make sure medical marijuana is medical marijuana,” Cuomo said, according to multiple reports. “So we’re careful about what diseases it covers.”
By now, this should be a done deal. Military veterans have said loud and clear what they need and want. Politicians — and conservative ones — are choosing not to listen.
TELL US, do you think veteran’s deserve medical marijuana?