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.