Veterans looking to participate in their state’s medical marijuana program may soon get the support they need from Uncle Sam to obtain the herb without any hassle.
On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate voted in favor of a congressional amendment that would prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs from using federal funds to keep VA doctors from providing veterans with medical marijuana recommendations.
When the House passed the amendment this morning in a vote of 233-to-189, there was a lot of hope that the Senate would soon follow suit and approve their version of the plan. Then on Thursday afternoon, the Senators voted 89-to-8 to include medical marijuana in the new military budget – a move that along with the latest House action almost guarantees a medical marijuana amendment for veterans is to be included in the 2017 Fiscal Year federal budget.
Prior to the House vote, Representative Blumenauer, who introduced the “Veterans Equal Access” amendment to the lower chamber testified that, “one of the great concerns we have is how the two million young Americans who went to Iraq and Afghanistan reintegrate back into society.” The pro-pot congressman went on to explain that many of the veterans he has encountered throughout the past few years have credited medical marijuana with the successful treatment of “PTSD, pain and other conditions, particularly as an alternative to opioids.”
For the past couple of years, Blumenauer has led the crusade on Capitol Hill to allow veterans to use medical marijuana. However, his vision has not always been well received. A similar proposal was rejected in 2014 by nearly 30 votes and then again last year, but by a substantially narrower margin – missing by only two votes. But it was his dedication and consistency to the cause that ultimately gave way to the promise that his latest amendment would be more widely received in the current session.
Yet, the battle to see the passage of the House amendment was not without some hissin’-and-spittin’ from the opposing forces. Some lawmakers argued that veterans should not be given permission to use medical marijuana because the “Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health and other medical professionals” have not yet recognized the herb for its medicinal benefits. Fortunately, Blumenauer was able to combat this argument by explaining that Congress would not be enabling veterans to use marijuana, but merely giving VA physicians the option of recommending cannabis medicine as an alternative to other drugs.
Today’s passing of the Senate version was not exactly surprising. The upper chamber approved a similar measure last year, so the majority was expected to cast a favorable vote.
Nevertheless, national cannabis advocacy groups praised both chambers for their willingness to finally get serious about providing veterans with a connection to medical marijuana without forcing them to lean on the black market.
“It’s looking like this could finally be the year the federal government stops making veterans jump through costly, time-consuming hoops just to get legal access to medical marijuana,” Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, told Cannabis Now in an statement. “Cannabis has shown great promise in helping veterans deal with PTSD and treat chronic pain, and it’s an increasingly attractive alternative to opioids. There’s absolutely no reason the VA should be preventing its doctors from helping veterans who served our country find relief with medical marijuana.”
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