VA Continues to Refuse to Consider Medical Cannabis as Potential Treatment for Veterans

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to ignore a valuable treatment for its veterans by ignoring the potential benefits offered by cannabis.

Recently, a graphic has been making its way around social media regarding the VA's policy on cannabis:

Many veterans are celebrating the fact that the VA is even acknowledging cannabis, which is a step forward. But just how far of a step is the VA willing to take?

As it turns out, not too far.

The VA's policy (VHA Directive 1315) has been in place since 2017 and is active until 2022. We've summarized this policy in the infographic below:

Source: U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs

Safe Access

The long and short of it is that a veteran will not be arrested or denied treatment from the VA if they use cannabis. That's all well and good, but that assumes that you can receive treatment from the VA and participate in a state-approved medical cannabis program. For example, California requires a recommendation from a primary care doctor in order to be eligible for the state's approved medical cannabis card. If you're a veteran whose primary health care provider is the VA, that's not going to happen. This drives the veteran outside the VA system and can prove costly.

Earlier this year, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) attempted to pass an amendment to his law protecting states with legal cannabis from Justice Department intervention that would allow VA health care providers to recommend medical cannabis in those states. However, the VA stepped in at the 11th hour and blocked the amendment, citing concerns that "VA doctors could potentially be prosecuted for aiding and abetting violations of the Controlled Substances Act by filling out forms on federal property to help veterans obtain cannabis, which is still a Schedule I drug."

That's all well and good, but it was established in 2002 that doctors could recommend medical cannabis under their First Amendment rights. The VA countered this argument by stating their uncertainty as to whether or not this also applies to federally employed (VA) doctors. Instead of working with Rep. Blumenauer to resolve this legal issue, they chose to block the measure altogether, denying veterans safe access to medical cannabis.

Research

If you read any of the graphics above, you noticed this bullet point from the VA's policy:

VA scientists may conduct research on marijuana benefits and risks, and potential for abuse, under regulatory approval.

The problem is this: they don't want to conduct the research. According to Marijuana Moment:

It’s not just Blumenauer’s measure that VA is resisting. A department representative testified in opposition to four pieces of legislation focused on cannabis and veterans that were discussed during a congressional committee hearing on Thursday, including Blumenauer’s standalone bill to accomplish the same objective as his appropriations amendment.

The official told the panel that VA is also against legislation that would require the the department to conduct clinical trials on the therapeutic benefits of marijuana for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain, a bill that to mandate a survey of veterans on their cannabis use and a proposal to require training on medical cannabis for VA health practitioners.

To put it simply, the VA can do the research; they just don't want to. They don't want to hear about the relief cannabis provides to veterans struggling with issues from chronic pain to PTSD.

Reading between the Lines

Just over a week ago, another veteran took their own life in the parking lot of the Charles George VA Medical Center in North Carolina. The VA says it's looking for solutions for the veteran suicide epidemic, but when it's presented with one that has so much potential, they ignore it. Veterans are literally killing themselves at the VA's doorstep, begging them to listen, but it falls on deaf ears. Instead, the VA forces veterans to wait weeks, often months, for mental health care they desperately need.

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