The use of medical marijuana as a treatment option for veterans has taken a gigantic leap forward. On Thursday, Congress approved a pair of bills that contained language allowing veterans to be able to get access to medical marijuana in states where the drug has been legalized.
The bills containing the medical marijuana for veterans amendments was passed by the Senate with a vote of 89 to 8 and a vote of 233 to 189 in the House of Representatives. The bills will now head to the desk of President Obama for his signature. Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access, commented on Thursday’s move.
“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. 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 medical marijuana amendments were attached to larger bills that deal with funding for the Veterans Administration and other government agencies. A similar move was attempted last year, only to be defeated by a slim margin. Since the failure from last year, pressure to reform the legal status of marijuana continued to pick up momentum. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), was the sponsor of the amendment. Blumenauer issued his comments in a press release about this historic legislation.
“I commend my colleagues for showing compassion and supporting our wounded warriors. 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. This is an historic moment and further proof there is real movement and bipartisan support in reforming outdated federal marijuana policies. 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.”
The Veterans Administration policy that did not allow V.A. healthcare providers the ability to offer medical marijuana as a treatment option expired on January 31, 2016. Even though the policy expired, a new policy had to be put into effect before providers have their hands untied.
The language used for the medical marijuana amendments differs slightly between the bills passed by the Senate and House.
What The Senate Bill Says
None of the money set aside for the Department of Veterans Affairs in this Act can be used to interfere with a veteran’s chance to participate in a medical marijuana program that is legal in their state, deny any type of service to a veteran that uses medical marijuana where it is legal, or hinder a V.A. healthcare provider from suggesting a veteran be allowed to use medical marijuana.
What The House Bill Says
None of the money set aside for the Department of Veterans Affairs in this Act can be used to enforce the Veterans Health Administration Directive 2011-004, which expired on January 31, 2016.
Even though the language between the two bills is vastly different, experts believe that both will give veterans greater access to medical marijuana.
Currently, 24 states, along with the District of Columbia, have legalized the use of medical marijuana. Louisianna will become the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana once the bill sent to his desk is signed by Governor John Bel Edwards. It is believed that he will sign it.
Will this move help lead the way for marijuana to be legalized at the federal level?
[Photo by AP Photo/Eric Risberg]