Congress Blocks Medical Marijuana for Military Veterans

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Despite strong bipartisan votes in both the House and Senate to allow military veterans to receive medical marijuana recommendations through the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.), Congressional leadership is blocking the change from becoming law.

Last month, the House approved an amendment to let veterans get medical marijuana recommendations from V.A. doctors by a vote of 233 – 189. On the same day, the Senate passed its version of legislation to fund the V.A. through 2017, which included a medical marijuana provision that had already been attached to the bill by the body’s Appropriations Committee in a vote of 20 – 10.

After bills pass both the House and Senate, leadership appoints a conference committee made up of members from either chamber who then meet to reconcile the differences into a final package to be sent to the president for enactment.

Marijuana policy observers expected that the conference committee would include protections for veterans who need medical cannabis since the measures passed so handily through bipartisan votes in both chambers.

But the final V.A. spending package released late Wednesday night is totally silent on the issue, forcing veterans who want medical marijuana to continue to seek recommendations from doctors outside the V.A., which can be costly and time-consuming.

The news comes just one day after Congressional Republicans blocked amendments that would allow state-legal cannabis businesses to access banking services and let Washington, D.C. spend its own money to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana sales from being considered on the House floor.

The veterans medical cannabis language approved by the House and Senate differed somewhat.

The Senate bill read:

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 said:

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”.

But neither version made it into the conference committee’s report, which the House passed at 3:10 AM Thursday morning by a vote of 239 – 171.

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 final V.A. bill now heads back to the Senate for an up-or-down vote and, if passed, to President Obama for his signature.

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.)

73 Comments

    • Angela Farquharson on

      Just sucks I feel all veterans or even disable veterans should be able to be precribed medical marijuana. These people really don’t get what most veterans go through.

    • Angela Farquharson on

      How do I vote and contribute to this cause? I think if more people will do something about it we can make it happen. It is well needed in this world especially during these times.

    • Right this is crap…..but yet they let these damn doctors push pain killers and anti-depressents to just about everyone without a blink of an eye….problem with that is the government and pharacuedical companies are killing people this way for the Damn almighty dollar all they care about is $$$$$ this is just unbelievable. Med mj has helped me with my fibro, anxiety, depression and much more i am fuctionable like normal not high or zombie like on those meds i dont care what anyone says smoking med marijauna is not a life threatening drug it can help so many instead of all these drugs that will all these drugs cause kidney and liver and pancreadic problems n death come on world wake up and fight for our right to do what heals otherwise government withh keep us sick n dying ?

    • Barbara Salisbury on

      In Missouri last month a whole plant medical cannabis failed,with a Republican legislator there saying “it doesn’t matter -the supreme court is going to move against it In THE FALL”,even the president sent me a hate letter basica.my dismissing me as a constituent Democrat voting 38 yrs and repeating information I said in a private conversation to my older brother in Florida,the letter vanished when closed so I wrote the president for the first time directly and admitted to having to sell small cannabis in exile economically and having used it since before I was 10.The federal court voted against all whole plant cannabis voting also with the 1937 law,and will probably permanently illeagalize with a ww2 era expanded 10th amendment,so Mexico seeks to make cannabis use and possession a human right and legalized in Canada,but not here in the happy land.Chris Young

    • I detest most republicans they all need to go. They refuse to even talk about gun control, havent passed any meaningfull legislation,and refuse to even talk about imigration. This is one of the worst congresses we have had in my 65 years. I am tired of these neo nazies craziness and refusal to work with the other party.

      • What gun control are you talking about… Taking weapons out of the hands of law abiding citizens? I’m sure your aware that criminals don’t care about gun control. While your at it, any chemical capable of producing a bomb, like the Boston bomber, and automotive controls too… You know cars into crowds can be deadly.
        When you talk about immigration reform, are you talking about giving amnesty to ILLEGALS? Is that the reform you speak of… in your 65 years, you have learned nothing.

        • Larry Borselli on

          Hey idiot. We’re talking medical marijuana, not some boogie man stealing your precious guns from you. Or those confounded immigrants doing their best at disrupting our American way of life. Jesus, I hate the republican party. We know what’s best for you, they always say.

        • Bob… Get over it. Americans have proven they’re too stupid to handle guns. I’m a marine and still feel that way. Also, we’re taking about mmj here. Your right wing populist arguments have no use here. Go to a Faux News message board.

        • This Congress does suck and they should all go this fall they haven’t done anything the last 8 or so years replace them ALL!

      • Honus Wagner on

        I watched Kimmel last night , he interviewed idiots on the street , asked them what Trump/Hitler would have to do for them to change their vote , fools said he could murder someone RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM a and they would still vote for him . You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a brain absent moron these days

    • And yet most were re-elected. That would include my district Congressman, not “my Congressman, a small/limited government teabagger Andy Harris. When it comes to cannabis Harris is big, intrusive government. Says Harris of cannabis: “marijuana is a dangerous, addictive gateway drug.” I was hoping he’d have been primaried. He won, easily. Was also easily re-elected. Can’t figure out how he keeps getting re-elected. I’d vote for a ham sandwich before I’d ever vote for “Anti Cannabis Andy.”

  1. Thomas Tony Vance on

    Veterans, Post Traumatic Stress
    Disorder, Addiction and Suicide

    A worrisome component of Veteran
    Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with chronic pain is the constant, ever hovering
    specter of addiction and suicide among the Veteran population. The suicide rate sometimes reported to be as much
    as 22 a day, may seem a high estimate but a suicide day is 30 a month and one a
    day too much.

    When considering the
    high rates of drug addiction and suicide among the Veteran population one
    must also consider the following reports. A recent Journal of the
    American Medical Association report of a 25% drop in opioid overdose deaths in
    states with medical marijuana laws and a Cato Institute report from January of
    2015 citing a 5% drop in suicides in states having medical marijuana
    laws. We would expect to see a similar drop in Veteran addiction overdose
    deaths and suicides should the Congress pass a Medical cannabis law this session.
    Indeed one can rightfully say that passage of a medical cannabis law this
    session is a matter of life or death for our Veterans and for our civilian
    citizens suffering from addiction and depression leading to suicide.

    Veterans have long recognized the
    beneficial effects of medical marijuana and Veterans in medical cannabis states
    report great success when using medical marijuana for PTSD, chronic pain and a
    number of other conditions for which medical marijuana is effective.

    During 2013 there were 1019 opioid
    overdose deaths in Kentucky and in 2010 there were 609 successful suicide
    attempts. A comprehensive medical
    marijuana program would have prevented 30 suicide deaths and 255 overdose
    deaths. Truly passage of a medical marijuana bill is a matter of life and
    death!

    We strongly urge the Department of Veteran Affairs to actively support passage
    of a strong comprehensive medical cannabis bill as soon as possible. The
    lives of our Veterans and citizens depend on it!

  2. Not many, if any of these voting politicians have ever been in the military, so they have no idea of the
    needs of our US Veterans. You would hope that their conscience would be their guide to do the right
    thing for the veterans, but these people are just robots operating under old habits that make them believe they know whats best for us. Here in Colorado we let our voice be heard at the polls, ‘if your
    not part of the future, than get out of the way’.
    Concerned Vietnam Veteran…

    • Mr. Billy Bear, no offense sir, but you just referenced a moral compass in politicians. Being your a Vietnam Veteran I would assume you more than any of us “young buck” vets would recognize the irony of that statement! However Sir, I admire and respect your hope. I mean that with all the sincerity in my heart not sarcasm you have my word, and you are certainly right about Colorado! In my opinion, not only did they lead on legalization, but the entire attitude of the state seems to be “we voted on it, it was our decision, we don’t care what anyone else has to say!” Even those who voted against.

  3. Rod is on the Gas on

    It’s a horrific example of our times of life here in America.
    A vet suffering from PTSD can legally consume……….
    Unlimited prescribed meds which lead to death.
    A quart a day of liquor consumption …death.
    4 packs a day of coffin nails…death
    But, seek actual relief from the memories of war, and………..

  4. Charles N. Sanders on

    I am not a criminal. It just confuses me about decisions being made that don’t even make bad sense. Liquor and cigarettes and opioids kill people hands over fist…Nobody has died from Cannabis use! What about common sense this is ridiculous and hypercritical. The fight will continue and it is the good fight my weed smoking bros. and sisters! This is the height of BS! May not work for everyone but it does work for a lot of people. I guess that doesn’t matter.

    • The only thing that comes to mind, tobacco, alcohol, drug corporations all are big money contributors to campaigns( imagine that) and I believe may offer other benefits; how can the ‘ new weed ‘ industry compete with that, with the limited market, heavy taxation, government agencies fighting them tooth and nail.

    • It’s all about corporate American greed. Medical marijuana reduces the need for doctors and prescriptions meds so the Medical Associations and Pharmacuticals are against. Law enforcement agencies get funding based on crime statistics. When marijuana is legalized it reduces their capabilities to get money. Corporate jail managers obviously want harsher laws to fill the jail beds, which they get paid on. Alcohol consumption goes down, so corporate alcohol is against. These corporate interests give large sums of money and other interests to these puppets we call our Congress.
      The reasons for their decision is obvious……..more money for themselves.

      • Greed is the reason mj became illegal. I agree with Mark. I totally missed the class where they taught a committee could reverse or ignor a majority vote. A different monetary system for operating what is now a legal business. Feds should not be able to touch a dime until…… Ops off track a bit, I am a veteran of thirty years and disabled. Corperate greed or Government dysfunction should not control my Quality of Life. PEACE: freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility.

    • Yes, let’s keep making public all Congressional cowards that hide in the crowd. No one comes out on the record in their state much less a nation wide opposition. They go off their old ignorance and listen only to few other old ass people who just need to get out of the way or just plain mind their business and shut up!

  5. Michael Megronigle on

    Im home doing my thing. Thank you to my VA doctors who understand I do not want narcotics. My body my health choice is cannabis.

  6. Victoria Khan on

    another scourge on our country
    we know what ppl see from the outside looking in
    they live in a bubble
    vote em out

  7. Heather Brenner on

    The pharmaceutical companies generally get a 10,000% return on investment for each dollar they spend on lobbying. This is what that ROI looks like

  8. This is the result of not focusing on local elections and sending the Tea Party Taliban members to Congress and the Senate.
    NO POLITICIAN is worthy of holding public office if they support the old racist laws on cannabis prohibition and to those who continue to support Veterans suffering… to those who support the for- profit prison industry that has developed because of the American War on Drugs…
    Our Veterans deserve our total support and they are suffering NEEDLESSLY… and the politicians turn their back upon our suffering Veteran community.
    When will we send these corrupt politicians to the dung heap of history and move into the light of truth over cannabis and its healing ability for our loved ones who are suffering.
    Veterans for Compassionate Care supports our Veteran community. http://www.veteransforcompassionatecare.org
    Compassion… Understanding…Relief

    • Republicans Are the ones that passed the bill through the House and Senate. It was removed by a committee thats 4 D’rats and 4 Republicans. Read the Article if you can.

  9. Republicans have repeatedly voted against the best interest of veterans. Any veteran voting for a republican candidate is voting against their own best interests. Vote blue send the GOP a Message. Veterans deserve better.

  10. Scott Ledger on

    Hello Tom Angell

    A nice follow up to this could be the names of who voted no and their individual contributions from Big Pharma if any. Keep fighting.

  11. Bonnie Rochelle Lyons on

    What are they getting in return for blocking this. After all its all about $$$ isn’t it?? I don’t have any trust in our system anymore. Pharmaceutical companies are getting rich while everyone suffers side effects etc… from taking prescription meds…. I believe it’s time the general public starts recognizing this and get involved. It’s time to take a stand and come out to support cannibas reform!!!!

    • I believe that every time a veteran or any citizen that dies of suicide or overdose due to the fact that they can not participate in the benefits of medical marijuana because our government refuses to make it legal all over the country everyone in government should be charged with murder because that’s what they’re doing murdering people alcohol is still the number one killer in the world it’s legal go figure medical marijuana has not killed anyone go figure what is wrong with our government G could it be that they’re selfish greedy I just want to sit behind a desk and collect a paycheck yeah that’s what I believe so let’s get serious citizens and make a stand these people should be should arrested booked and charged with murder and should not be allowed to play out but should face a jury of their peers remember government God’s watching you

  12. Steve Miller on

    As Vietnam Veterans , incarcerated for weed, face the probability of dying in prison because of their age.

  13. Jeffrey McCallister on

    jeffrey mCcallister . I guess down here in S.C.we have a bunch of good ole boys that are sheriff of the upstate county that like to arrest all us potheads as they call me . getting cannibus legalized they overlook any medical issues we have ..all my VA dr.s know i am off all opates and refuse any for treatment..i use marijunana only for my cronic pain and ptsd ..under my doctors approval . Using marijuana has saved my life and i encourage all my fellow Vietnam vets to keep plugging along .. we may have to make a joint trip to DC for a sit in like the dems just did …oh yeah the cost 350 per oz when you can hit the streets and find it i spend upwards of 1200.00 monthly so come on DC please help us by letting our VA Drs treat us PLEASE PLEASE…jeffrey mc

  14. Strange, the slimey republicans will take money from the NRA so our men, women and children can be killed, but they won’t allow our proud members of the armed services to somehow relieve the pain. I do not believe the word scum is fitting for the republicans, as they are beneath that !!

  15. Julie Walvatne on

    Thank you for reporters like Tom that are bringing the truth to all …. We the People need to support these issues! Get rid of the good old boys thinking… The old croney way of doing things… Vote these people out!

  16. Everyone should be able to use cannabis period! It helps with ptsd,depression, pain,seizures,fibromyalgia, chronic pain, cancers etc. We all have a RIGHT to medicine that works and that includes cannabis.
    The stigma that has been put on it is horseshit!!! The government knows it and so does the medical industry. It’s a herb that has medical benefits which is no different than the herbs you use in your food like tumeric,rosemary, oregano etc….All contain health benefits

  17. Todd Burgess on

    Representatives?
    Obviously representing themselves as duplicitous whores of Big Pharma, not veterans, or any other human species!!
    They ALL gotsta go.

  18. I’m a veteran, I have my card. Block?? No. Reduce, maybe. Now you are just making veterans despise their own countries laws, smart move America. Now this is freedom!!! Lmao!

  19. This coming from the old school ALCOHOLIC DRUNKS who know nothing about mmj yet vote against it because the alcohol and the Big Pharma lobbyist’s TELL THEM TO !
    TERM LIMITS NOW ! The system is BROKEN ! Too many dinosaurs and career politicians blocking Freedoms of the AMERICAN PEOPLE !!!

  20. Then be sure to vote your feelings in November’s election and energize those around you. Change won’t happen until we rid Congress of those who are holding back needed change. Please vote or you will be part of the problem.

  21. So Congress is saying it’s OK for us to continue taking huge amounts of pain pills and other pills with questionable side effects and some pills we are taking only because the Congress let’s big pharm sit in their big pockets,makes a lot of sense, Congress wants us to continue killing ourselves with unnatural when we have something additive free…….WEED

  22. Republicans are all for themselves. Bet everyone of them has a gun and wouldn’t hesitate to use it..especially on people of color. We need gun control. People carrying guns into clubs and drinking…only a Republican would have such an ignorant thought.
    Allow Vets to get recommendations from VA.
    for Medical Marijuana. We don’t want pills to make Pharmacists richer as they turn Vets into addicts.
    Maybe everyone in Congress should light a joint before each session.

  23. For all those bemoaning “Republicans are the problem”

    You are SO far from right.

    It’s DEMS and RINOs who are the problem or the issue would be settled.

    Why didn’t this get passed when the DEMS had FULL control of both the House AND Senate AND had a President in the White House who was “sympathetic”?

    You are acting like children pointing at one another when the problem lies with 535 mostly idiots who can’t read scientific evidence nor BELIEVE it when we say cannabis cures, cannabis heals and cannabis MITIGATES what it can not heal.

    GROW THE FREAK UP AND VOTE IN BETTER PEOPLE AND GET OFF EACH OTHERS NADS!

  24. Robert Gonzales on

    My God, don’t these people have any compassion. We need to take this into our own hands and organize a million people sit in on D.C. streets. Shut the capital down until they deschedule cannabis.

  25. People here are bringin up Republicans and guns, em which is ironic.

    Republicans are just as bad on marijuana policy as the Democrats are about gun control. They both use the exact same Hollow arguments based on emotion without applying any logic. The Democrats use complete emotion and no logic at all talking about gun control which is just another form of prohibition, and the Republicans do the exact same thing with marijuana and drugs.

    It’s actually quite funny to see how the two completely point the finger at the other of not being reasonable and logical, and then use the exact same argument that the other one uses for their emotional topic of choice.

    Actually it’s not funny, it’s rather pathetic and sad.

    Those who talk about how prohibition and the War on Drugs is an utter failure, make the case that people are going to do what they want, things in high demand such as drugs will always be sought after, you will always be able to find it.

    They point out how bans on drugs has done nothing to suppress the market, And then turn around and use exact same emotional prohibitionist arguments for guns that they use on drugs.
    Many call for an all-out ban or near ban with regulations so tight that it is pretty much prohibition all over again.
    The same people that preach about how drugs being illegal does nothing and you can get them on the street anytime, anywhere, actually sit there and try to make the argument that if you were to make guns illegal, somehow they wouldn’t be available in the same way drugs are.

    Of course, we need to look at examples such as France where such Bans are in place and terrorists got their hands on fully automatic military grade AK 47s, body armor and explosives.

    So the breakdown of logic is that somebody who was already willing to commit murder is somehow going to respect a gun law? The logic behind that is absolutely absurd, however they will continue and try to make the argument that by banning weapons they wouldn’t be available, which again is another absurd argument, as if there’s not a dealer ready to supply a gun just like a dealer ready to supply heroin on demand.

    Take a look at Mexico, a narco-state where weapons are banned from the masses and the two factions that have them is a corrupt government and cartels terrorizing the populace on both ends of the spectrum. Of course now you have Villages arming themselves illegally because they’ve had enough. Again though, they have no trouble getting their hands on such weapons when they finally decide to do so.

    There it’s the war on drugs and guns, abd it’s a failed state where both markets thrive.

    Then, you get the prohibitionist Old Republicans who sit here and use tired old prohibition arguments based on nothing but emotion, talking about how the failed drug war continuing on is somehow I’m going to be successful, and making drugs illegal is going to make them less available. Of course, we know that’s not the facts, we know it not to be true, and the Republicans continue to ignore factual data on marijuana that completely debunks all the myths and hype surrounding it.

    Just like guns and all the myths and fallacies that the gun control crowd tries to push, you get exact same thing with prohibition on drugs, pushing fallacies such as marijuana being highly addictive, dangerous, killing people, no medical use, and so on.

    It’s time that people start putting the emotions aside and start pragmatically thinking about the issues and getting to the root of the problem. If one is willing to effectively think and break it down logically, and put the emotions on the back burner, perhaps finally we could get something done on both sides of this pathetic isle.

  26. I am a disabled veteran. Almost 10 years ago, my VA doctor asked me one question. He asked if I was against medical marijuana. When I said no, he suggested that I see an outside doc that would prescribe this rather than having him prescribe opiates. He said that I would have to be on an increasing dose of opiates, but that I should try the marijuana first and see what happens. I still do not take any opiates, but use medical marijuana to treat my pain. Not a lot, mind you, and I only use when I need it. I would rather smoke a joint and be in NO pain for 8 hours than take a pill and MAYBE it would take the edge off the pain, but I would still hurt.

    The only good thing is that most docs that will recommend marijuana have a special price for disabled veterans, so the recommendation is fairly cheap. And most of the dispensaries do veteran deals, too, which makes it affordable for me. My prescriptions through the VA for the rest of my meds cost more than my monthly marijuana usage!!!

  27. when you are in so much pain,, why would anyone hold back a natural substance that can keep you from getting addicted to pain killers? PTSD is huge issue with vets, and pain,, they should be allowed the same rights as any person that is able to use medical M.

  28. StAugBassman on

    I’m not a VET but this is outrageous and anger me to no end! These people need to be terminated from those jobs immediately!

  29. What are the names of the reTHUGlicans who took the language out of the bill? I want to know so I can take unspecified actions against them. They need to suffer the consequences of their actions in no uncertain terms.

  30. I used marijuana in 1966 while in the army .. I never became addicted and have not used it in a long time. I have constant pain and was given Oxycontin by a VA doctor . It was almost instant I was hooked on that crap. After a nasty struggle I got myself off that poison. Since then my only option is to suffer with my increasing pain. I would love to try the hemp oil . I do not want to be high but would enjoy a bit of piece from my chronic pain.

    • Michael, if you are in a state that allows medical marijuana, what you need is the CBD. This is not the THC that causes the high, but a true painkiller.

  31. Anita S. Rossi on

    Hasn’t the government screwed the veterans of this country enough?! The poor men and women and their families and friends have been ignored for too long. I wish the veteran associations would do something for themselves by gathering at the Capital on some day when there is to be a BIG celebration for the country to be televised with their signs and banners held by all of the men, women and children that this government has hung out to dry without any apologies! It’s despicable and deplorable and PLEASE FIND HELP FOR THESE FORGOTTEN WARRIORS!!!!!

  32. Fred Fredricksen on

    The pharmaceutical companies lobby congress to oppose medical marijuana legalization, that is the primary enemy and our non supportive elected representatives that do not listen and vote for veterans issues. If we don’t vote out the corrupt politicians and get our voices heard we will be fighting this same fight for years to come. And they need to keep their fingers out of it, trying to limit our access to what they have set aside in a patent for themselves to sell. Can you believe the audacity? Putting a patent on Marijuana in the same breath as saying it has no medical value? Keep the price affordable for veterans in need, and get the states to allow it in all fifty for Veterans with medical problems that would benefit from this drug. Find out their records, fire those that do not support us. Write those that are running for office to let them know our needs and position.

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