A push to give U.S. veterans easier access to medical marijuana got a new boost in late May.
A key Senate committee passed a bill May 21 that would allow doctors with the Veterans Administration to recommend medical cannabis to their patients. The House defeated a similar proposal less than a month before, but the initial win in the Senate suggests the idea still has a chance of becoming law.
The Senate Appropriations Committee cleared the bill by a vote of 18-12. It won support from both sides of the aisle and marked an increasing tendency by senators to vote in favor of cannabis reform.
Currently, VA physicians are barred from giving vets any information about the benefits of marijuana and cannot recommend the drug as a treatment for any condition. That leaves patients to go outside the VA for MMJ referrals, and that can be costly and time-consuming.
The belief that veterans shouldn’t have to get their best medical care from outside the VA may be a persuasive factor for many lawmakers. Soldiers earn their benefits because they serve, and those benefits are supposed to be comprehensive. They often fail that goal, but vets still deserve easy, cheap access to a drug that can alleviate the ailments of war.
Change at federal level
Cannabis advocates praised the vote as a sign that even federal lawmakers are beginning to back serious change. Michael Collins, policy manager for the pro-reform Drug Policy Alliance, said the bill is a step toward giving veterans the care they need.
“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,” Collins said. “They have served this country valiantly, so the least we can do is allow them to have full and open discussions with their doctors.”
Thirty-six states have legalized some form of medical marijuana, though 13 of those permit only a non-intoxicating form of the drug for epileptic patients. Four states – Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon – allow both medical and recreational cannabis.
Marijuana can help veterans
Veterans may experience any of a number of conditions that can be successfully treated with marijuana. It’s one of the most effective medications for severe and chronic pain, including phantom limb pain. And studies are showing it’s one of the best treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Almost 30 percent of veterans have some form of PTSD or depression. They suffer an extraordinarily high suicide rate – a scourge that actually affects non-combat service members more than war vets.
The Senate bill still must win a vote in the full chamber, then return for a new vote in the House. The last vote there was very close, so by the time a new bill arrives, lawmakers in the House may be ready to pass it.
“Elected officials are finally starting to wake up to the fact that endorsing marijuana reform is good politics instead of the dangerous third rail they’ve long viewed it as, and that means a lot more victories are on the way soon,” said Tom Angell, head of the Marijuana Majority.