WASHINGTON — A House committee took a step to make it easier for veterans in states with legal cannabis to use the drug, which some say helps them cope with chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, better known as PTSD.
Legislation passed by the House Veterans Affairs Committee would allow veterans to continue receiving federally provided health care even after enrolling in state medical marijuana programs.
Currently, VA doctors cannot discuss marijuana as an alternative treatment, nor write prescriptions, because the drug is illegal on the federal level.
The measures also would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to study the medical benefits of cannabis. They also would allow VA physicians to discuss the benefits of cannabis in states where the drug is legal and to fill out forms making veterans eligible for medical marijuana.
“Historically, they’ve always erred on the side of propaganda,” said Leo Bridgewater of Trenton, an Army veteran. “Now they’ve erred on the side of science.”
The bills now go to the House floor for action.
“We appreciate the Veterans Affairs Committee recognizing the rising tide of support for veterans having access to medical cannabis,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., a founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “Overwhelmingly supported by the public and veterans’ organizations, it now looks like Congress will follow through on reforming this harmful, counterproductive policy.”
Supporters of legalizing marijuana welcomed the committee votes.
“Our distinguished service people have waited far too long for the ability to use the medicine that works for them without fear of punishment, and the VA can benefit tremendously from the knowledge that will come from mandating the research that it has avoided or ignored up to this point,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
Don Murphy, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said veterans should not be prevented from using marijuana in states where the drug is legal and could provide them with an alternative to opioids.
“Now that a majority of states have legalized cannabis for medical use, it is indefensible to restrict veterans’ ability to access medical cannabis through their VA providers,” Murphy said. “Federal law should not criminalize veterans for trying to find relief.”
But the top Republican on the panel, Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., opposed letting VA doctors discuss a drug that remained illegal under federal law.
“I wholeheartedly support research regarding the safety and efficacy of marijuana for veterans,” Roe said. “However, it is irresponsible and reckless to require VA doctors to assist their patients in using it before there is a demonstrated clinical benefit and so long as its use remains against federal law. This bill would leave VA doctors vulnerable to criminal sanctions and veteran patients vulnerable to treatment options that have not yet been scientifically proven.”
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