On July 26, the U.S. House of Representatives approved amendments and added a large spending bill. Among those amendments was an addition that would permit doctors from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical cannabis for veterans, as well as allow research to be conducted for other psychedelic substances with medical benefits.
The amendment was one of many proposed to be added to the 2024 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies appropriations bill, also referred to as HR-4366, which “…prevents the VA [Veterans Affairs] from interfering with a veteran’s ability to participate in a legal state medical cannabis program, deny service to such a veteran, or limit health care providers’ ability to make appropriate recommendations of this treatment option for veterans.” The measure was introduced by Rep. Brian Mast, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Rep. Dave Joyce, and Rep. Barbara Lee.
According to Mast, the measure is a necessity for military veterans. “I rise in support of a bipartisan amendment and it’s to do something simple—give veterans access to every possible tool when it comes to the wounds of war of which I am innately familiar,” Mast said. “The amendment is quite simple. It allows VA doctors in states with legal medical cannabis programs to discuss cannabis as a treatment option with their patients.” He explained that he has personal friends, from rangers to green berets, who have found relief from both mental and physical wounds by using medical cannabis.
Blumenauer also stated that it is Congress’s responsibility to pass legislation that allows veterans to use medical cannabis. “These veterans have also shared their fear about what happened if they work with the VA doctors to incorporate their cannabis use into their treatment plans. The VA denies veterans access to this care option by preventing providers from completing forms in compliance with state medical marijuana programs,” Blumenauer said. “This is a shameful disservice to the men and women who put their lives on the line. The VA is forcing veterans to seek care outside the VA or self-medicate. Our veterans are paying the price for Congress’s failure to act.”
Joyce also spoke in favor of the amendment, adding that he is “…proud to join my colleagues in leading this commonsense effort to help our country’s veterans access medical treatment. I’ve seen firsthand the many challenges our nation’s heroes face when they return home,” Joyce said. “We should all be resolved to help expand access to treatments for the medical challenges, both mental and physical, our nation’s veterans experience.”
Opposition was presented by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Rep. John Carter, claiming that VA doctors could legally be put at risk for recommending medical cannabis.
The House also recently approved an amendment, introduced by Rep. Lou Correa and Rep. Jack Bergman, to allow research to be conducted for other psychedelic substances. “If psychedelic-assisted therapy can treat a veterans’ PTSD or prevent them from taking their own life, then we owe it to them to take an active role in researching these potentially lifesaving therapies,” said Bergman. “This amendment will unlock potential treatments that have been shown to actually cure PTSD—something current medicine and modern psychology have been unable to do—and give our veterans a chance to live a long, happy life that we all take for granted.”
Correa added that it’s time to “take care of business” and ensure that the VA studies psychedelics and uses those findings to develop a program for veterans. “Veterans have fought for our freedom. It’s time that we continue and step up to fulfill our moral obligation to take care of them as well,” Correa said.
A study published by the University of North Texas and University of Illinois in April found that one in 10 U.S veterans, or approximately 16,000 veterans, have used cannabis within the past year. Another study from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 83% of the organization’s veterans supported legal medical cannabis access and 55% supported recreational legalization.