It may soon be legal for veterans under the care of government hospitals to explore medical marijuana as a treatment option. A group of bipartisan lawmakers got together in Washington D.C. earlier this week to introduce a piece of legislation aimed at giving doctors employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs the legal right to recommend medical marijuana to patients, as long as it is legal in their state.
The concept of treating veterans with medicinal cannabis for conditions, ranging from PTSD to chronic pain, has been a controversial issue across the country for some time. This is largely due to the federal government considering the herb a Schedule I controlled substance with “no medicinal value.” However, several Democrats and Republicans hope to change that, rallying together in support of what they call the “Veterans Equal Access Act,” which would serve as a technical bypass of federal statues by allowing doctors at VA clinics to endorse medical marijuana.
As it stands, VA doctors are prohibited from entertaining any treatment option for patients that involves cannabis, and can sustain strict disciplinary action if they are caught. The latest measure, which is a cosponsored effort by Representatives Justin Amash (R-MI), Walter Jones (R-NC), Tom Reed (R-NY), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Sam Farr (D-CA) Dina Titus (D-NV), and Jared Polis (D-C0), would allow veterans suffering from severe conditions to enjoy the benefits of statewide medical marijuana programs without a conflicting treatment plan from the Veterans Administration.
Representative Earl Blumenauer, who is also a co-sponsor of the bill, says it is a disgrace that this country does not allow veterans access to medicine shown to be effective for treating the symptoms of serious war wounds. “Post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury can be more damaging and harmful than injuries that are visible from the outside,” the Democratic lawmaker said in a statement. “And they can have a devastating effect on a veteran’s family. We should be allowing these wounded veterans access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana — not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows. It’s shameful.”
The latest data from the Veterans Administration indicates that about 30% of veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from depression and PTSD. A study published last year in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs shows that marijuana can reduce the symptoms of these debilitating anxiety disorders by an average of 75%.
Marijuana policy experts applaud these lawmakers for standing up for well being of the men and women who have served our country at war. “Republicans are really stepping up on this issue, as evidenced by the list of co-sponsors,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies, with the Marijuana Policy Project. “Medical marijuana is becoming a bipartisan issue on Capitol Hill, which makes sense given the level of public support behind it. This isn’t about being liberal or conservative — it’s about being sensible and compassionate.”
“The men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have made tremendous sacrifices for our country,” he added. “They deserve every option available to treat their wounds, both visible and hidden. If VA doctors are confident that medical marijuana would improve their patients’ quality of life, they should be able to recommend it to them in states where it’s legal.”