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Congress to Vote: Medical Marijuana for Veterans

March 13, 2019

There have been several attempts in the past to pass legislation that would allow Veterans Affairs physicians to issue medical marijuana recommendations to veterans. Many of these initiatives have failed to make it into the final draft of the law. Fortunately, under a new bill filed by Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and a host of bipartisan cosponsors veterans may finally get access to the medical marijuana they deserve.

Cannabis Recommendations for Veterans

The proposal was introduced in the House late last week and sets forth a mandate that authorizes VA physicians to issue “recommendations and opinions to veterans who are residents of States with State marijuana programs regarding the participation of veterans in such State marijuana programs.”

Representative Blumenauer’s H.R. 1647 Bill would be transformative for veterans suffering from PTSD and chronic pain. He recently released a statement in regards to the new legislation saying, “For too long, our veterans have been denied access to highly effective medical marijuana treatment for conditions like chronic pain and PTSD. Medical marijuana has shown proven benefits for treating these conditions and denying our veterans access to them is shameful. This simple bill would align veterans VA treatment with their very popular state laws, usually approved by the voters.”

Authorizing V.A. Doctors

Both in 2016 and 2018 similar legislation was put through Congress but the first time the proposal wasn’t included in the final version of the bill. In 2018, the Senate approved an appropriations bill that included cannabis recommendations but the measure was road blocked in the House by Pete Sessions who was the chair of the House Rules Committee. Senator Sessions was staunchly against any sort of cannabis reform and kept the bill from ever receiving a vote.

The new bill, H.R. 1647, has a much better chance of getting through the House and Senate. The proposal already has 12 co-sponsors and it’s expected that many new House Democrats will jump on board before it goes to vote. At the very least, so much support could motivate lawmakers to add riders to the upcoming appropriations legislation in spring that would authorize VA doctors to issue medical marijuana recommendations for veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs still wants to conduct more research on the effects of cannabis on veterans but this won't prevent the bill from moving forward.

In his statement regarding the new legislation, Blumenauer made it clear that, “This legislation would guarantee our veterans fair and equal treatment, along with the ability to consult with their own physician on all treatment options. It’s past time we provide them with the care they need and deserve.”