The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) specifically prohibits its medical providers to provide recommendations and opinions about medical marijuana.
That may be changing.
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a bi-partisan Veterans Medical Marijuana Amendment that allows VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where medical marijuana is legal.
“I don’t believe we should discriminate against veterans just because they are in the care of the VA,” said Daines.
A 2011 directive by the Veterans Health Administration prohibits agency doctors from consulting patients about medical marijuana use. A veteran is forced to seek a medical appointment out of the VA.
“It’s an enormous inconvenience to our veterans,” said Merkley.
Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
“Veterans in medical marijuana states should be treated the same as any other resident, and should be able to discuss marijuana with their doctor and use it if it’s medically necessary,” said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.
Medical marijuana is believed to help alleviate symptoms from chronic pain, post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, from which veterans suffer more than the population as a whole.
Pro-marijuana activists have been touting the medical benefits of cannabis, especially cancer, HIV and others who suffer from the most severe cases of chronic pain.
What’s interesting about the VA ban against recommending medical marijuana is that it doesn’t exist in other federal healthcare programs. A Medicare patient may freely discuss medical marijuana use with his or her doctor, but a returning veteran isn’t.
The amendment passing doesn’t mean the ban will be lifted. It still has to pass the U.S. Senate and get through the House, which voted a similar amendment down in April.
This issue appears to be more generational than partisan in Congress.
Earlier this year Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky and Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Corey Booker of New Jersey introduced a bill that would make it easier for people to use state medical marijuana programs without worrying about federal charges.
But veteran Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is not supporting the bill. He is chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee. He supports research into medical uses of marijuana, but he’s not close to easing its use.
“I oppose moving marijuana from Schedule 1 to a Schedule 2 drug, based on the current science on the risks and benefits,” Grassley wrote in a statement to the Des Moines Register in March.
The debate continues.
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