WASHINGTON, DC. 21 May, 2015 – In a significant first, the U.S. Senate bowed to veterans’ calls for medical marijuana access in states where it is legal. On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed, by an 18 –12 vote, an amendment allowing Veterans Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients in states where it’s legal.
The Veterans Equal Access Amendment was sponsored by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana) and Jeff Merkley (R-Oregon) and now becomes part of a military spending bill guaranteed to pass on the Senate floor. Its passage will deliver a small but important victory, marking the very first time the U.S. Senate has approved federal cannabis law reform legislation.
A similar amendment was rejected by the House Appropriations Committee last month, missing inclusion in the previous appropriations bill. Members of the Senate could still seek to remove the Daines/Merkley provision from the bill, but pragmatists may see change as inevitable. If the full Senate approves the bill, with the amendment intact, a House-Senate conference committee will then have to decide whether VA doctors can respect the rights of their patients to receive accurate information.
“They can’t discuss all the options available to them that they could discuss if they literally walked next door to a non-VA facility,” Daines said. “I don’t believe we should discriminate against veterans just because they are in the care of the VA.”
While Medicare doctors are free to discuss cannabis with their patients, the VA has been a holdout among federal healthcare programs, the only provider that prohibits doctors from discussing or recommending medical marijuana to patients. Despite mounting evidence that cannabis derivatives can help treat post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury, the VA has opposed relaxing its stance, citing concerns about potential addiction.
In a Drug Policy Alliance press release, spokesman Michael Collins said, “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. They have served this country valiantly, so the least we can do is allow them to have full and open discussions with their doctors.”
Sweeping bipartisan medical marijuana legislation is presently on the table in the form of the CARERS Act, which would legalize medical marijuana use nationally. The bill, introduced in March by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Proponents say it is time for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on the full bill, however chairman Chuck Grassley has not yet scheduled a hearing, despite significant interest from his colleagues.
· Almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans
· As many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans
· 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan
· 20 percent of Iraqi war veterans