Senate Passes Bill Letting Veterans Access Medical Marijuana

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The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that allows military veterans to more easily access medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

Under current Department of Veterans Affairs regulations, doctors who work for the V.A. cannot issue cannabis recommendations, even in the 23 states that have laws allowing for medical use.

But under language in the new legislation, the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans AffairsAppropriations Bill, the department would be prohibited from spending any money to enforce those regulations or to punish veterans who use medical marijuana in accordance with state law.

The vote on the bill comes on the eve of Veterans Day.

“Veterans in medical marijuana states should be treated the same as any other resident, and should be able to discuss marijuana with their doctor,” Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “It makes no sense that a veteran can’t use medical marijuana if it helps them and it is legal in their state.”

The newly approved language, which is excerpted below, was added to the overall bill via a committee vote of 18-12 back in May.

Sec. 246. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the Department of Veterans Affairs in this Act may be used in a manner that would–

(1) interfere with the ability of a veteran to participate in a State-approved medicinal marijuana program;

(2) deny any services from the Department to a veteran who is participating in such a program; or

(3) limit or interfere with the ability of a health care provider of the Department to make appropriate recommendations, fill out forms, or take steps to comply with such a program.

The provisions are also included in a separate package of spending bills that Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), the powerful chair of the Appropriations Committee, introduced last month as a salvo in ongoing negotiations with the House. Current federal funding runs out on December 11, and leaders from both chambers are in discussions that they hope will result in an omnibus spending package that can be approved prior to that date.

When the House considered its version of the V.A. spending bill in April, a floor vote to allow veterans to access medical marijuana narrowly failed by a vote of 210-213. The next day it was revealed that one medical marijuana supporter mistakenly voted no and another voted no because he thought the amendment didn’t go far enough. With those two votes flipped, the amendment would have been approved.

In a statement, TJ Thompson, a disabled Navy veteran, praised Tuesday’s action by the Senate. “On this eve of Veterans/Armistice Day where we remember those who served in the military and the treaty agreement to reach peace concluding WWI, we see this victory as a step toward a peace treaty with the government we volunteered to defend with our lives and as a step toward restoring our first amendment rights and dignity as citizens of the United States, ” he said.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Marijuana.com. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)

36 Comments

  1. This is a good first step, but its only a first step. Our veterans deserve the best medicine and best medicines that we can provide. The VA, to its credit, is way ahead of Medicare, in that the VA is able to negotiate drug prices. We need the VA to cover the cost of Medical Marijuana and to provide our Veterans with a wide range of methods to use it.

    • Smokeless Cannabis Remedies to the rescue! Capsules, tincture, salve, liniment, suppositories, bath salts, and more. Works like a champ.

      • How About Cannabinoils derived from Hemp? I’ve heard it’s NOT the same and is of no use! What say you? And what is your KNOWLEDGE as in Expertise?

        • I have not had the opportunity to work with hemp at all, only Cannabis. I’ve been doing this every day for the past 5 years, the last four at Albany’s Canna Kitchen & Research. I practice on humans, no one believes me when I tell them what the animals said! Actually, some of our humans have pets who have done fantastic on very low dose capsules, and others on higher dose for surgery, etc. It’s an amazing plant, I look forward to the world opening up to it, things are really taking off.

        • It is NOT the same at all. There is some health benefits but it depends what you are taking it for. If it has helped for your condition then go ahead & take it. If you are talking about cancer it BETTER be loaded with THC also. Rick Simpson calls the THC oil, hemp oil & it has a lot of people confused. They are sister plants but not exactly the same.

        • Hemp is what they use to make rope and always had zero THC and who knows how much CBD’s, grows wild along the side of the road in rural America, and is chock FULL of seeds that were usually but not always white, and I mean FULL OF SEEDS. AND, it wouldn’t get a fly high. My knowledge comes from pretty much daily (but responsible) use for the past 40 years as I completed a 30 year career in the Federal government.

      • Rhea, I purchased “LEGAL” Cannabinoil derived from Hemp plant VS Cannabis plant, is it of any use to me or was I Duped? 250 MG, Cannazal

        • I haven’t heard of that of one with that name, but there are like 80 of them, so who knows. The plants are first cousins, I am thinking the non-psychoactive agents in hemp are going to be the same. What you have to be absolutely the most cautious of is this: “What was used to extract the oil?” You only want food grade materials to be used, not naptha, isopropyl alcohol, or anything like that. 190 proof grain is good, organic is best.

          Blessings, and thank you for your service.

        • jimbob-2729900 on

          There are a bunch of HEMP manufacturers that are selling oil that way… I am no expert… I have a huge bottle I use in my foods… but is it the same as Cannabis Oil like that used by certain people in states where it is legal – I do not know for sure – but don’t think so. I buy a bunch of hemp health products legally via amazon – most come from Canada… oil – protien powder – etc…

          • Nope, not the same at all. Yours won’t get you high even if you drank it all – whereas with Cannabis Oil, a tiny little drop will make you high as a kite for hours. Some use it for that… but its true value is in getting people well. Cannabis kills cancer, for starters – but it’s the world’s best pain killer in capsule form.

          • If I weighed about 3 lbs., a “tiny little drop” might make me as high as a kite, but probably only for about 20 minutes or so … and for me, ingesting marijuana is not the best way to improve the quality of my life – smoking it from a small pipe is what works best for me and has done so for about 40 years … I’m onboard with you about the righteous benefits of cannabis, but not all cannabis is equal nor is all cannabis oil equal. Depending on what helps one with their particular pain or discomfort or mental well-being, there needs to be either CBD’s and/or THC in their pot in effective concentrations/levels. For my own spinal nerve pain, CBD’s don’t help me much but THC helps me in that it permits my mind to wander away from the 24/7 pain that is spinal nerve pain. From my own 40+ yrs. of experience with pot/hash, even smoking a few drops of amber “honey oil” (hash oil) back in the 70’s would get me high for an hour or two, but then it wore off as I was left craving an ice cream bar and a bottle of ice cold Gatorade. You’re totally right about cannabis currently being shown to be a cancer assassin – more research needs to be done on what just might be that Magic Bullet that spells the end for cancer.

          • disqus_4kZ10wa2LB on

            delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is a pain killer I used to get killer migraines for a day or two I used Hash because it had higher levels of THC my mind would wander about how long is this migraine going to last and before my final thought of how long will it be before my pain gone my pain was almost gone. I knew it would be gone eventually and about a year ago I tried living without any cannabis I had no pain at all I still use cannabis just not daily or as needed any longer

          • If you are in Oregon, you need to try our Smokeless Cannabis Remedies from Albany’s Canna Kitchen and Research, LLC. Smoking the oil and taking it in a capsule are completely different delivery modes, you’d be amazed.

          • disqus_4kZ10wa2LB on

            Cannabis will inhibit and stop the growth of cancerous cells and the already weakened cells will never be active again.. it will help but it does not kill cancer your body just has to get rid of the dead cancer cells

          • Cannabis actually does kill the cancer cells via apoptosis, it’s fascinating! There are videos available about it.

        • You might be alright, depending on where you got it. Does it relieve your pain? That’s the important part. You do have to be very careful though, much of the hemp that comes in comes from overseas and harsh chemicals have been used to process it. If you can get it locally processed from food grade materials, you will be better off. Blessings!

        • Marine223 – it’s legal because there is no THC in it. Hemp has very little or no THC and grows wild in much of middle America. And be aware that marijuana and bath salts are at opposite ends of the spectrum of safety. Bath salts have no medical use, will make you psychotic, and your behavior when under the influence might result in an early death for you or some innocent bystander as a result of some insanely dangerous and stupid thing you do. Pot can improve the quality of your life and presents no danger to your health, physical or emotional. I myself am an older veteran and I worked at the VA for many years, so let me offer you a bit of advice if you are (or will become at some future date) a veteran = (1) STAY AWAY FROM that garbage that is sold in head shops as “legal” weed = it is pure sh*t; and (2) unless you have a serious mental illness (there are cases of this sort that can become more problematic if the person smokes pot), DO NOT even mention smoking pot to your VA doctors/providers NO MATTER IF THEY ASSURE YOU that it will all remain confidential. Until the VA starts filling prescriptions for medicinal marijuana, I will continue to keep my own use my own business, and will continue not mentioning it to ANY of my own VA doctors/providers. There have been cases where pain medications are denied to veterans who have had THC show up in a uriine test. Hoorah jarhead!

        • disqus_4kZ10wa2LB on

          if you can find one with cannabis and hemp that would be the way to go because the hemp version works but you may need the cannabis version too they are both different plants with different compounds the cannabis version may have higher levels of Cannabidol which is only one compound found within the cannabis plant and an extract of a cannabis plant will have a really high percentage of Cannabidol. I seen a video on youtube where it was stated that an extract of a high Cannabidol plant had 43% Cannabidol (CBD) in it. I thought wow it’s only getting better as doctors and researchers are able to examine and report this plants findings.

  2. Our VA Hospital in NM is all over the place on this. Some doctors flat out reject it, and some recognize the benefits of medical cannabis and encourage their patients to try it, but none will fill out the necessary paperwork for a recommendation to our state run program. We just have to keep fighting the fight, and at my age, I will be fighting the rest of my life.

    • Just go to a regular doc who will do the recommendation, that’s what the patients in NV do. Usually have to pay between $80 & $150.

      • That’s exactly what the vets do here, but they shouldn’t have to jump through hoops. Non of us should, but especially the vets.

        • Truth of the matter is the card system is unconstitutional & we have a Vet here in NV who has filed a lawsuit over it. It is crazy they make us supply all the proof to convict us in federal courts. Yet if you are prosecuted federally they don’t allow the fact it’s legal in your state as a defense. It should be treated like any other herb.

    • Linda Fernandez Brittain on

      I’m a 64-year young disabled veteran…and a patient at the VA hospital here in Prescott, Arizona…I’ve been smoking since I was 15+ and no, I never turned to ‘harder drugs’ like they warned us about…lol…Anyway, I was the one who brought weed up to my Primary Care doctor…Now, this man is 72 years young, but is on top of things…He’s the one who told me to get my medical marijuana card ‘just in case’ I was tested and they saw it in my system…No problems as yet…It would be great to have it in a capsule form…

      • Eating/ingesting pot gives you a totally different high. I’m a 61 year old disabled veteran, and I don’t much like eating it and I only smoke mine from a small pipe, but then again, I don’t like vaporizers much either so there you go. Eating it gives me more of an alcohol-type high. And you are fortunate that your VA doctor is so cool – and having worked at the VA, I can guarantee you that since he is so cool, he did not enter that into your record as he knows how much sh*t you can catch for it. It’s always good to have your card, and if you are ever “interrogated” by the VA as to why your latest urine test came up positive for THC, you can at least one time get away with claiming “Oh – I was at a party where some people were smoking marijuana.” to explain the positive THC test!

        • Linda Fernandez Brittain on

          No, Zap…I’ll just tell the truth…Believe it or not, the Department of Veterans Affairs is researching the benefits of it…I know at least 4 other doctors who are down with it…The more the merrier…lol…

      • disqus_4kZ10wa2LB on

        I have seen many doing it online they heat the herb/plant material and put it in a capsule and distribute it to the needy it is called Decarboxylation you can find info on many canna related forums

  3. in 1978 I became the 2d person in the country with legal access, I resigned from the Marines because of the unwanted attention of my beloved Corps. I appreciate that 34 yrs later it is happening. In 1978, I sent an expose on what repeal would do for the nations budget in 1978 USD 250 Billion would have paid a lot of problem with the budget and we probably wouldn’t have “Prisons for Profit”, who was the dilbert with that idea?

  4. There is a THC oil legal in every state except Florida. Go to Arc of Realm to learn about it.

    I am a service connected veteran with arachnoiditis; a direct result of the bacterial spinal meningitis I contracted during basic training.

    I know some arachnoid sufferers who have gotten nerve pain relief using the oil.

    I live in West Virginia where medical marijuana has not been legalized so I can not use the oil. The VAMC will take my narcotic pain medication away if I test positive for THC.

    It’s sad that I am deprived of using an oil that is legal to use in WV because of the policy at the VAMC.

  5. Isn’t that nice. The prohibition/ obstruction party (gop) will find a way to stop anything good they can’t profit by…
    Not holding my breath.
    But everyday this issue is fought down and not resolved keeps the BLACK MARKET ALIVE AND WELL…I guess the gop wants it that way…sounds pretty stupid to me.

  6. It’s about time. I have fatty liver disease, so I’m not supposed to take pain meds. A crushed foot and, degenerative arteritis in my back,and shoulder. Their are a lot of Vets. Out there that are worse off than I am. We need something to dull the pain without doing more damage to our body. I believe pain meds is what caused my fatty liver disease in the first place. It’s not about getting HIGH !!! It’s about dulling the pain so we can lead a close to normal life.

  7. I’m a veteran and I am a card holder in my state. The VA wouldn’t allow me any meds if I were caught using medical marijuana. Any time I had an appointment I would have to stop smoking for 30 days in case of the random drug test. I do take pain meds but with the use of medical cannibas I don’t need to use as much and gives me great pain relief. I do know doctors outside the VA have the same rules (the ones I’ve seen anyway), If you use then you get no other meds. It needs to get legalized and made with no penalties for those that need it.

  8. A friend of mine is suffering from chronic back, and leg pain. He has had multiple back surgeries, but it did not relieve his pain. He also has trouble getting to sleep. He has weaned himself off of painkillers. Could anyone help with what kind to try. He tried the kind that has very little THC, and more CBC. sp?

  9. disqus_4kZ10wa2LB on

    I think if the vets were the first to get medically cleared for marijuana and the rest of the patients were still waiting marijuana would be legalized already.. if the Native Americans had guns before the settlers came we would all be wearing head dresses and smoking out of piece pipes.

  10. disqus_4kZ10wa2LB on

    either way the UK supplies legal cannabis seed sales and Italy will grow hemp for seed guarded by the Italian army. Who ever knew that was going to happen ever in this lifetime. Even Mexico is getting the ball rolling while the US frees marijuana related prisoners of life in jail. WOW

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