An amendment to a defense spending bill that would allow Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to prescribe medical marijuana has been approved by a US Senate committee. The amendment, proposed by Senator Jeff Merkley, authorizes VA doctors to discuss the use of medical cannabis with their veteran patients and complete the necessary paperwork for participation in state programs where medical marijuana is legal.
The amendment comes as a response to the current restriction that prevents VA doctors from writing recommendations for medical cannabis due to federal illegality. However, the VA does not prohibit veterans from using medicinal cannabis.
Amendment Similar to Standalone Bill
The amendment closely mirrors a standalone bill put forth by Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Rep. Brian Mast, co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. The Veterans Equal Access Act allows VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana’s therapeutic use and write recommendations for veterans in states where it is legalized. However, the legislation does not grant the VA the authority to dispense cannabis, so veterans would need to obtain medical marijuana from state-regulated dispensaries.
When reintroducing the bill, Rep. Blumenauer stated that the legislation would provide “equal access to state-legal medical marijuana for veterans participating in VA healthcare” by ending the prohibition on VA doctors giving opinions or recommendations on medical cannabis.
At a press conference, Rep. Blumenauer emphasized the importance of passing the bill, saying that it should be an easy decision given the benefits it would bring to veterans. He highlighted that VA doctors possess the most knowledge about their patients and should be able to provide guidance and counseling on medical cannabis.
Aaron Bloom, CEO of DocMJ, a medical marijuana physician practice, applauded the inclusion of veteran’s medical marijuana provisions in the appropriations bill. He noted that allowing VA doctors to prescribe medical cannabis would offer relief to veterans suffering from conditions such as service-related PTSD and chronic pain, providing them with an alternative to opioids.
Veterans Groups Advocate for Cannabis Research
In December 2022, a coalition of nearly two dozen veterans service organizations penned a letter to congressional leaders urging them to support legislation that authorized research into medical marijuana as a treatment for military-related ailments. The letter, signed by organizations including AMVETS, DAV, Minority Veterans of America, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, emphasized the experiences and anecdotal evidence shared by veterans regarding the effectiveness of cannabis in treating various health concerns.
The letter called for the VA to conduct research into the efficacy of medicinal cannabis in addressing chronic pain, PTSD, and traumatic brain injuries. It also highlighted the bureaucratic hurdles and red tape that impede federal cannabis research as a Schedule I drug under the FDA.
Rep. Blumenauer expressed optimism about the potential for change within the VA, stating that he had spoken with VA Secretary Denis McDonough, who appeared open-minded about the benefits of medical cannabis. He noted that the VA itself has the power to become a strong advocate for change, and he believes that progress is being made.
1. Will the amendment allow VA physicians to prescribe medical marijuana?
No, the amendment will allow VA doctors to discuss the use of medical cannabis with their veteran patients and complete the necessary paperwork for participation in state programs where medical marijuana is legal. It does not grant them the authority to prescribe cannabis.
2. Can veterans currently use medical cannabis?
Although VA doctors are prohibited from writing recommendations for medical cannabis, the current VA policy does not prohibit veterans from using medicinal cannabis.
3. What is the Veterans Equal Access Act?
The Veterans Equal Access Act is a standalone bill that would allow VA doctors to have discussions with their patients about the therapeutic use of medical marijuana and write recommendations for veterans in states where it is legalized. However, it does not give the VA the authority to dispense cannabis.
4. How would veterans obtain medical marijuana?
Veterans would need to obtain medical marijuana from state-regulated dispensaries if their VA doctor writes them a recommendation for its use.
5. Why is there a need for cannabis research for veterans?
Veterans service organizations believe that medical marijuana has the potential to effectively treat ailments and health concerns affecting veterans. However, federal research into cannabis is hindered by bureaucratic hurdles and red tape.