VA Blocks Measure Allowing Veterans to Participate in Medical Marijuana Programs

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) suffered a setback when he withdrew his amendment that would have allowed veterans safe access to medical cannabis without interference from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The amendment was to be attached to a broader bill blocking the U.S. Justice Department from interfering in states that have legalized cannabis, including its recreational use. However, the VA raised some 11th-hour concerns about the amendment which caused Blumenauer to withdraw it.

This is not a new concept. The last time this measure was before the House in 2016, it passed but was stripped of most of its language by then-Speaker John Boehner. Boehner, who once opposed both medical and recreational cannabis, has become a staunch advocate for the cannabis industry. This time, however, the VA themselves stepped in to block the amendment from being added.

The VA's "concern" over the bill that would allow VA doctors to recommend (not prescribe) medical cannabis to patients was that their doctors would be prosecuted for violating the Controlled Substances Act, since marijuana/cannabis is still classified as Schedule I.

“Even though this amendment has passed repeatedly, all of a sudden the VA has decided, well, they would be putting their doctors at risk,” Blumenauer said. “Never came up before. If we’d known about it, we could work it around. I think we can and should work to fix this.”

Rep. Blumenauer was willing to work with the VA and other members of Congress to address this and other issues. Unfortunately, "limitations" and "procedural roadblocks" made it impossible for Blumenauer to include his amendment in his broader cannabis bill. According to Marijuana Moment:

Advocates have pointed out that federal courts have already determined that doctors who simply recommend medical cannabis to their patients are protected under the First Amendment, but VA’s concerns caused uncertainty among lawmakers as to whether that protection extends to federally employed physicians. And those questions could have jeopardized the amendment’s passage on the floor.

Blumenauer shouldn't feel singled out. The VA is attacking three other measures that would allow veterans safe access to medical cannabis. According to a VA representative, the VA also opposes any legislature that would require the VA to conduct clinical trials to determine the benefits of cannabis as a viable treatment option for chronic pain, PTSD, and other service-related conditions, a bill mandating a survey among U.S. veterans regarding their cannabis use, and a proposal requiring training for VA health care providers on medical cannabis.

Veterans and Cannabis Use

As a veteran myself diagnosed with PTSD and chronic pain, I often rely on the VA for treatment, which generally consists of throwing pharmaceuticals at me and sending me on my way. They were happy to prescribe opioids to me when I was first seen until I mentioned those same opioids they were prescribing to my father killed him. Now, I take high-dose ibuprofen, which isn't the best for me, either. It wasn't until I explored the potential benefits of cannabis that I finally found some relief.

Without cannabis, the pain in my shoulder is almost unbearable. I would happily cut my own arm off just to stop it. I also suffer night terrors and wake up screaming in a pool of sweat. Cannabis topicals have reduced my pain levels significantly, and thanks to THC and CBD, I can sleep through the night. However, because this is all anecdotal, the VA will not even consider recommending cannabis as a treatment option. Instead, they choose to keep their heads in the sand and ignore cannabis's potential benefits altogether.

Veterans are committing suicide in VA parking lots, literally killing themselves trying to get help, but the VA chooses to continue to ignore them. We are screaming at the top of our lungs that their current method of care isn't working, but they still don't listen. According to the VA's own report, an average of 20 veterans commit suicide per day. How many of us have to die before they understand that what they're doing isn't helping us.

How many of us need to take our own lives before the VA wakes up and at least investigates the potential benefits cannabis has to offer?

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