In early June, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment that would offer protection to veterans and Veterans Administration (VA) doctors in states in which medical marijuana is legal. Senator Steve Daines of Montana is the amendment’s sponsor.
Under the amendment, the rights of states under the Tenth Amendment and the rights of veterans in states where medical marijuana is legal would be protected against enforcement of federal marijuana law. The amendment would secure the right of doctors for the VA to discuss medical marijuana treatment with veteran patients in legal states, and veterans would not be subject to penalties for using medical marijuana in legal states.
According to press releases from the Republican senator’s office, the amendment “does not change current laws preventing the possession or dispensing of marijuana on VA property, but simply allows veterans to discuss all options that are legally available in their state with their VA doctor.”
Veterans should have access to the best available treatments
“Veterans should not be discriminated against when they seek care at the VA,” said Daines. “They deserve access to the treatment that best suits their medical needs, just like they would receive at a non-VA clinic.” Daines may succeed at attaching the amendment to a bill such as the Department of Defense’s annual budget.
Previous news stories indicate that the VA had a gag order preventing clinicians from discussing medical marijuana with patients. Some of these stories refer to VHA Directive 2011-004. That directive’s policy statement does not mention a rule against the discussion of medical marijuana by clinicians with patients. What the directive does say is: “It is VHA policy to prohibit VA providers from completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a Veteran’s participation in a State marijuana program.” However, this policy could, in effect, keep VA doctors from sharing information with other doctors.
Whether a gag order existed or not, perhaps the efforts of Senator Daines and the amendment’s backers in Congress have already reaped some results. The VA now has a web page that states its current policy clearly. According to the web page, “Veterans will not be denied VA benefits because of marijuana use. Veterans are encouraged to discuss marijuana use with their VA providers. VA health care providers will record marijuana use in the Veteran’s VA medical record in order to have the information available in treatment planning. As with all clinical information, this is part of the confidential medical record and protected under patient privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations.” The VA site also states that VA clinicians may not recommend medical marijuana or “prescribe products containing Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Cannabidiol (CBD), or any other cannabinoids.” VA pharmacies cannot fill medical marijuana prescriptions.
Still no help with state paperwork
Most notably, the VA site says that VA doctors still may not complete paperwork for state-approved programs. If Daines’s amendment becomes law, VA doctors may help patients with their state-legal paperwork but still will not be able to prescribe.
Many medical marijuana patients claim that it helps them with PTSD, anxiety, and depression, mental health issues that afflict many veterans. Medical marijuana has also been credited with helping people manage pain and quit opioids. Chronic pain and opioid addiction are two more medical problems that disproportionately affect veterans.
Montana first legalized medical marijuana in 2004 and now has a fully established market, with the most recent update to its laws occurring in 2017. The state’s Department of Public Health and Human Services has an easy-to-use web page offering ample information about Montana’s medical marijuana program, with assistance available in fourteen languages. Daines has long been an advocate of medical marijuana for veterans.
What do you think: Will Daines’s amendment become law? Has he already gotten the VA to budge? Leave a comment below.