Congress OKs Medical Marijuana for Military Veterans

27

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives both took action to increase military veterans’ access to medical marijuana on Thursday.

By a vote of 89-8, senators approved a bill containing language preventing the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) from spending money to enforce a current policy that prohibits its government doctors from filling out medical marijuana recommendation forms in states where the drug is legal.

The House approved an amendment to accomplish the same goal by a vote of 233-189 earlier in the day.

“We are pleased that both the House and Senate have made it clear that the Veterans Administration should not punish doctors for recommending medical cannabis to their veteran patients,” Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), told Marijuana.com. “Combat veterans are disproportionately affected by several conditions that medical cannabis can effectively treat, including chronic pain, PTSD and traumatic brain injury. We anticipate this amendment will reach the president, and once signed, it will give V.A. physicians another tool in their toolbox to treat the healthcare needs of America’s veterans.”

The provisions are now part of a larger bills to fund the V.A. and other government agencies through next year. The medical cannabis language was attached to the Senate legislation last month in bipartisan vote of 20-10 in the Appropriations Committee, and did not require a separate vote on the floor.

Last year the Senate approved the Fiscal Year 2016 version of the V.A. spending bill, with similar medical cannabis protections for veterans attached, but the House narrowly defeated a move to add the amendment to its version of the legislation by a vote of 213-210. As a result, the provision was not included in the final omnibus appropriations package signed into law by President Obama in December.

Since then, momentum on medical cannabis and broader marijuana law reform issues has continued to increase. Last month, for example, Pennsylvania became the 24th state in the U.S with a comprehensive medical marijuana program. This month the Ohio House of Representatives approved medical cannabis and, on Thursday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed a medical marijuana bill into law.

U.S. House and Senate negotiators will meet in a conference committee to iron out the discrepancies in funding levels and other differing provisions between each chamber’s version of the spending legislation. But since both now include medical marijuana protections for veterans, it is likely that they will make it into the final package sent to President Obama for enactment into law.

“I commend my colleagues for showing compassion and supporting our wounded warriors,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who sponsored the amendment on the House floor, said in a press release. “Today’s vote is a win for these men and women who have done so much for us and deserve equal treatment in being able to consult with, and seek a recommendation from, their personal V.A. physician about medical marijuana.”

The V.A. policy disallowing its doctors from recommending medical marijuana in states where it is legal actually expired on January 31 but, under the department’s procedures, the ban technically remains in effect until a new policy is enacted.

Advocates expect a new policy soon, but aren’t sure what it will say. In February 2015, a top V.A. official testified before a House committee that the department is undertaking “active discussions” about how to address the growing number of veterans who are seeking cannabis treatments.

The language of the House and Senate veterans medical marijuana protections differ somewhat.

The Senate bill reads:

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 medicinal marijuana program approved by a State;

(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.

Whereas the House bill says:

None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to implement, administer, or enforce Veterans Health Administration directive 2011-004 (or directive of the same substance) with respect to the prohibition on “VA providers from completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a Veteran’s participation in a State marijuana program”.

While the Senate language seems more all-encompassing, advocates believe that whichever approach is included in the final enacted legislation will be sufficient to give veterans greatly expanded access to medical cannabis.

“The Senate language clearly states that interference is forbidden conduct, while the House language prohibits the V.A. from adopting or enforcing rules to interfere,” Liszewski, of ASA, said in an interview. “Once signed by the president, we look forward to working with the Veterans Administration to make sure that V.A. physicians are aware of their ability to recommend medical cannabis to veterans who could benefit from it.”

A trio of Democratic senators submitted an additional amendment this week intended to spur medical cannabis research by the V.A., but it did not receive a vote on the Senate floor.

Attention now turns to separate Congressional appropriations bills that fund other parts of the government, most importantly legislation that covers the Justice Department. For the past two years, advocates have succeeded in attaching language to the bill preventing the Drug Enforcement Administration and other Justice Department agencies from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana and industrial hemp laws. A move to broaden the protections to cover all state marijuana laws, including full legalization, narrowly failed on the House floor last year but could now have enough increased support to pass if voted on again.

Advocates will also continue pushing to add protections for banks that work with legal marijuana businesses to legislation covering the Treasury Department. And, there could be votes concerning the District of Columbia’s ability to spend its own money taxing and regulating marijuana sales.

“This is an historic moment and further proof there is real movement and bipartisan support in reforming outdated federal marijuana policies,” said Blumenauer, of the victory for veterans. “There is more to be done, and I will build on today’s momentum and continue my efforts in catching federal policy up to reflect the views held by a majority of Americans.”

Photo Courtesy of Paket.

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.)

27 Comments

  1. Tim Mcqueary Sr. on

    its about damn time, what happens when we stop killing our self’s and come looking for you who let us down? how well will you sleep?

  2. Anthony Minion Pilgrim on

    Hell yeah. Now to get it legal in all 50 states and our brothers and sisters can continue to live

  3. Every single veteran who has ever served in any branch of our military is a true HERO and deserves the absolute best care we, as a country, can give them (and their families too) and this is way way over due!!!!
    Thank you to each and everyone of you and I hope that this will help you find whatever relief you seek as you deserve it and so so much more!!
    God bless you!!

    • People in private life work all their lives paying taxes keeping this country operating. Yes they are hero’s as are the taxpayers .

      • That is true and I’m in no way taking away from the everyday American but let’s be real as we don’t suffer from the horrors of war, PTSD, amputations and everything else that our veterans suffer from. They have given more than the everyday taxpayer so in my eyes it’s not even the same and to try and compare them is ridiculous!!!
        Have you ever volunteered to help out our veterans and see first hand what they go through? If you have you wouldn’t even try to make your comparison.

        • I have helped disabled vets and still do, even before I knew I could get compensated for such actions, and btw ive lived in pain sice 1988, & aleays paid taxes, so you think vet enlisted for couple years never went into combat is more deserving than tax paying workers that live in war in the streets cant be compared to a vet why? Cuz theyre not funded and housed by government. ..heard of Watts riots…

        • Mark….as a female military vet who suffers with PTSD, I want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your heartfelt words. I have to say that it’s not just vets who suffer PTSD…it’s anyone who has ever been traumatized in their life. Yes some vets have seen death in their military duties but so have police officers, firefighters, paramedics and even every day citizens. But thank you for appreciating our military vets.
          God bless you my friend!!

      • Dennis, people in “private life” do not sign the “contract”. The contract that says you will surrender your life. Take your bernie sanders “everyone is equal” cr@p somewhere else.

        • W
          Suck some more hind tit off the government. What were you 20 in 20 out then got 3 extra points on testing for government jobs Making 100 on the test and be be beat out by a 101 score. Bernie no…….. just time to treat the people that pay for all the extra’s that are bestowed on the military with the dignity we deserve. The military is your chosen job not a requirement except in case of the draft.

    • Frank T. Kaluza on

      Back some time in the early ninety’s. I’m told access to VA medical was changed. All vets, especially old ones, do not qualify unless they signed up before the cut off date.

  4. Why only military! People are equal in the usa nut the same government discriminates against people in private life from receiving the same health care, You can bet the oval office’s walls are stained from pot smoke. That may explain the reason he wants to use the ladies restroom.

    • Easy Dennis Lee, one step at a time, after the Vet goes through the trial smoke cloud, I am sure they will loosen medical marijuana laws for everybody else. Meanwhile, you can always move to Colorado or Oregon. Even in California it’s super easy to get a medical card and maintain a fat sack and be perfectly legal. So sit tight and be patient, this train is moving faster than its ever moved before. Rest assured ,Mary Jane is on her way!

  5. Virgil Huston on

    This may be the most misleading headline I ever saw. I am a vet. I live in South Carolina. I am happy for those in legal states, but it does nothing for those of us who live in states that are still in the Dark Ages.

    • yes, it’s misleading Americans. The public servants in Washington DC need to remove Cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.

  6. If they really give a damn they would allow we vet`s to grow our own.I can`t imagine how much money that would save the Tax Payer by not having to finance and maintain a Gov. Pot Farm.

  7. if veterans from a voluntary enrollment military can get high on pot, then all adults in America get the same.

  8. As a 90% disabled DS/DS OIF/OEF veteran (US Army) I suffer from chronic pain daily. I also am an avid outdoorsman. I enjoy hunting and fishing as well. I also am a Veteran Service Officer in Washington state where marijuana is “legal”. I will just say this, until the Congress changes the law and directs the ATF and DEA to adhere to the new law, ownership of firearms and ammunition by users of MMJ and recreational Marijuana is a felony. This is just a cold hard fact made more clear by the letter the ATF drafted to all FFL licensees in 2011. I always caution the veterans I assist in educating them to the current laws and the climate of the current administration towards gun ownership.

  9. Frank T. Kaluza on

    The deck is still stacked against up until archaic laws are changed that can still be used to deny the rights of cannabis users.

  10. If you don’t live in a state where it’s legal then MOVE or wait a while it will be legal in your state soon.

  11. Veterans are not allowed to use cannabis legally. The bill you ate referring to here to sell your recs got dropped. It’s illegal for vets to use out VA doctors to administer cannabis. Don’t mislead people please!!

Leave A Reply