Lawmakers Refile Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana for Veterans
Lawmakers have reintroduced legislation to allow military veterans to use medical marijuana.
Lawmakers in Congress last week reintroduced bipartisan legislation that would allow military veterans to use medical marijuana and require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to study the medical potential of cannabis. The legislation, known as the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, was introduced in the Senate last week by Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii and in the House by California Democratic Representative Barbara Lee with co-sponsorship from Republican Representative Dave Joyce of Ohio, Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and nearly a dozen additional lawmakers. Schatz’s Senate version is co-sponsored by seven Democratic senators and Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont.
“In 41 states and territories and Washington, DC, doctors and their patients can use medical marijuana to manage pain or treat a wide range of diseases and disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder—unless those doctors work for the VA and their patients are veterans,” Schatz said in a press release. “Our bill will protect veteran patients in these jurisdictions, give VA doctors the option to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans and shed light on how medical marijuana can help address the nation’s opioid epidemic.”
VA Doctors Can’t Formally Recommend Medical Cannabis
Currently, VA doctors are permitted to discuss the medical benefits of cannabis with their patients, but they aren’t allowed to recommend the treatment or complete the paperwork necessary to authorize its use, even in states that have legalized medical marijuana. As a result, veterans who wish to use cannabis medicinally are required to obtain a recommendation at their own expense, source their medicine from the illicit market or buy legal recreational cannabis, often at significantly higher tax rates than the medical market.
“Veterans in Oregon and nationwide are unfairly and unacceptably stuck in a legal gray zone when discussing medical cannabis with their doctor,” Wyden said in a statement. “Veterans deserve the opportunity to explore various treatments with their doctor without fear of prosecution or employment ramifications. The Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would protect veterans who use medical cannabis while also directing the VA to research how medical cannabis could help veterans manage their health and well-being. I’ll fight tooth and nail to get this bill over the finish line and help get veterans the care they deserve and earned with their service.”
The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act (H.R. 2682) creates a temporary, five-year safe harbor protection for vets who use medical marijuana and allows VA doctors to discuss and potentially recommend cannabis as a treatment for their ailments. The bill would also authorize the VA to study the potential of cannabis to treat chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Previous versions of the bill were introduced during the last three Congresses, but lawmakers failed to approve the measures.
Supporters of the legislation note that veterans are twice as likely to die from an opioid overdose compared to non-veterans. Joyce said that “there’s a growing body of evidence about the beneficial uses of medical cannabis as treatment for PTSD and chronic pain, two terrible conditions that plague many of our veterans.”
“If a state has made it legal, like Ohio has, the federal government shouldn’t be preventing a VA doctor from recommending medical cannabis if they believe that treatment is right for their patient,” Joyce added. “As the son of a World War II veteran who was wounded on the battlefield, I’ve seen firsthand the many challenges our nation’s heroes face when they return home. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this important bill and will continue to do everything in my power to ensure we are providing our veterans with the care they need to overcome the wounds of war.”
Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act Supported By Veterans Groups
The legislation drew support and quick praise from veterans groups and organizations working to reform the nation’s cannabis policy, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), AMVETS, VoteVets, Minority Veterans of America, Veterans Cannabis Coalition, Veterans Cannabis Project, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the National Cannabis Roundtable, US Pain Foundation, Drug Policy Alliance, Veteran’s Initiative 22, National Cannabis Industry Association, Council for Federal Cannabis Regulation, Americans for Safe Access and the Hawaiʻi Cannabis Industry Association.
“We strongly support the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act and are thrilled to see it reintroduced in the current Congress by Senator Schatz today. To have such strong bipartisan support from policymakers in both the Senate and House, including from Congressman Joyce and Congresswoman Lee, is encouraging to veterans and advocates who far too often see their issues get lost in the federal shuffle,” the Veterans Cannabis Project wrote in an April 19 statement. “The reforms proposed by this legislation couldn’t be more straightforward or necessary. Almost everywhere in the country doctors and patients are permitted to prescribe and consider medical marijuana for treatment. Veterans who seek medical care from the VA are unfairly excluded from this process. As a nonprofit organization with thousands of veteran supporters, we strongly believe that vets should be able to safely explore medical cannabis with their VA doctors.”