For veterans suffering from PTSD, chronic pain, and other service-related health problems, medical marijuana could provide welcome relief without the side effects of conventional medications. But with a recent move by the GOP1 to kill the Democrat-sponsored Veterans Equal Access Amendment, access to medical cannabis through veterans’ services remains blocked — even in states where marijuana is legal.
Currently, doctors and therapists treating veterans through Veterans Administration hospitals and clinics are banned from recommending medical marijuana and from completing the necessary paperwork to allow veterans to use existing medical marijuana dispensaries in their states. The Veterans Equal Access Amendment would erase that ban and allow veterans the same access to medical marijuana as the population at large.
The amendment was initially passed2 by the Senate on July 13, 2017, as part of its 2018 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill. But just two weeks later, on July 26, a vote by the Republican-led House Rules Committee stripped it out of the bill before it headed to debate.
The amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), called3 the move a disappointment and a blow to efforts to provide the special care veterans need, especially after deployment in combat zones. “All we want is equal treatment for our wounded warriors,” said Blumenauer, who is the founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “They deserve better. They deserve compassion.”
The move to delete the amendment from final legislation comes as private sector research on the medical applications of cannabis continues to confirm its potential4 for treating a wide range of physical and psychological conditions. Numerous studies indicate that some compounds in marijuana, like cannabidiol (CBD), can rival conventional pharmaceuticals such as antidepressants and opioid medications for relieving pain, calming anxiety, and easing depression.
But on the federal level, research on the benefits of cannabis is hobbled by the current administration’s stiff opposition to easing existing restrictions on marijuana. Currently, marijuana is classified as a federal Schedule I drug along with heroin, LSD, and a few others labeled highly addictive and lacking in any medicinal applications.
The American Legion is lobbying for rescheduling marijuana to allow for more government-sponsored research into its medicinal uses. But for now, marijuana’s classification as a dangerous and addictive substance validates conservative-led efforts to block studies on its medical applications. That creates a vicious cycle that must be broken, according to Joe Penzler of The American Legion.
“It’s time the federal government took action to remove barriers to scientific research on this very important subject,” he told The Cannabist5 in a recent interview.
But the fight for the Veterans Equal Access Amendment may not be over6. The amendment could still make its way into a compromise bill to be drafted by both the House and Senate for a vote this fall. For now, though, VA doctors must remain silent about medical marijuana — and veterans who might benefit from cannabis are on their own.
1 Kime, Patricia. 26 July 2017. McClatchyDC. “Lawmakers halt bill to let VA doctors prescribe pot for pain.”
2 Strekal, Justin. 13 July 2017 The Daily Chronic. “Senate Committee overwhelmingly passes Veterans Equal Access Amendment.”
3 Congressman Earl Blumenauer. 26 July 2017. Press Release. “GOP leadership blocks Blumenauer Amendment to allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana.”
4 National Institute on Drug Abuse. April 2017. NIDA. “What is Medical Marijuana?”
5 Washburn, Polly. 26 July 2017. The Cannabist. “GOP Blocks Amendment to Allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to Vets.”
6 Gaffey, Conor. 27 July 2017. Newsweek. “Pot for pain: medical marijuana blocked as republicans shoot down bill, but it could still happen.”