Medical marijuana may have just been pushed into an arena many thought it wouldn't get to. According to the Military Times, the Senate Appropriations Committee just passed an amendment that would make it so doctors who work for the Veterans Health Administration (VA) can discuss patients using medical marijuana to treat ailments like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As it stands, VA doctors aren't allowed to even bring up medical marijuana, as marijuana is still illegal at a federal level. The amendment is on the Military Construction and Veteran Affairs Appropriations Bill, and it still needs to be passed by the Senate, but making it through the committee is a major step forward.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) led the fight to pass the amendment, according to Willamette Week.
"We should be doing everything we can to make life easier for our veterans. Prohibiting VA doctors from talking to their patients about medical marijuana just doesn't make sense," Merkley said in a statement. "The VA shouldn't be taking legal treatment options off the table for veterans."
Although medical marijuana is illegal at the federal level, many states have passed laws allowing its use, and veterans in those states often want to use it to treat their issues. Many claim medical marijuana is useful for issues like chronic pain, PTSD, anxiety, and more.
Despite the fact VA doctors have been unable to recommend or discuss medical marijuana as a treatment option, many veterans are using it anyway. Making it so VA doctors can discuss medical marijuana with their patients would mean they can give expert advice on the best way veterans can use the drug.
The bill has bipartisan support, and the amendment passed the committee with a vote of 20-10. The senators who spearheaded the amendment have tried to pass this kind of legislation previously when they attempted to add it to the 2016 VA appropriations bill. It had support then as well, but it failed to make it to the final bill.
"This measure removes unnecessary barriers to medical marijuana access for the men and women who have volunteered to serve in our armed forces," Robert Capecchi, the director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told High Times. "It will save veterans time and money, and it will allow them to have more open and honest discussions with their primary care providers."
One of the things stopping the VA from supporting medical marijuana, besides the legal issue, is the lack of research into how it can help conditions like PTSD. That being said, many veterans claim it works for treating their conditions.
There are 23 states with medical marijuana laws, and states like Washington and Colorado have recreational marijuana legalized.
Many veterans have been fighting for the right to use medical marijuana for conditions like PTSD, and protests have been staged across the country over the past few years. Medical marijuana appears to be far less harmful to veterans than some of the highly addictive drugs that can be prescribed to treat ailments veterans frequently encounter.
It is unclear if the bill the amendment is attached to will pass anytime soon, but the senators pushing the amendment appear to be optimistic. The DEA recently announced it will look into rescheduling marijuana so it's not a Schedule 1 drug, which is considered the most dangerous kind of drug. If marijuana is moved to another schedule, then it will be easier for researchers to look into its possible medical benefits and gain funding for such research.
PTSD can cause veterans to become suicidal, and many medical marijuana advocates cite the statistic that 22 veterans commit suicide daily when arguing for expanding medical marijuana access, according to the Huffington Post.
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