The U.S. Senate has passed a measure that will allow veterans living in medical marijuana states to take advantage of those programs without consequence.
As the sun was going down on Capitol Hill Tuesday evening, both Democrats and Republicans pledged an allegiance to the nation’s veterans by signing off on a page of the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill that will not only allow physicians working through the Veterans Administration to discuss medical marijuana treatment with their patients, but it will also give veterans the opportunity to participate in their state’s respective program without losing access to prescription drugs or enduring any other penalty.
“Veterans in medical marijuana states should be treated the same as any other resident, and should be able to discuss marijuana with their doctor,” Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. “It makes no sense that a veteran can’t use medical marijuana if it helps them and it is legal in their state.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 213-210 against this concept, mostly because the Republican majority just couldn’t find it within themselves to support veterans suffering from debilitating conditions as a result of protecting the safety of our nation. However, last night, the Senate version was put on the negotiation table to be included as part of a federal spending bill.
As it stands, the Department of Veterans Affairs strictly prohibits any doctor under their employ from so much as even discussing medical marijuana with their patients. To make matters worse, the department has also refused to provide prescription drug access to any veteran who tests positive for marijuana.
The latest update to the VA guidelines technically gives veterans permission to use medical marijuana, but they are forced to sign an “opiate consent” form that essentially gives the department the right to revoke their painkiller privileges if they submit a positive drug screen for THC.
Yet, the latest amendment, which was introduced and aggressively pushed by Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, is designed to narrow the divide between state and federal law. Even though 23 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to make medical marijuana legal within their borders, the federal government still considers weed to be one of the most dangerous drugs in the world. This has put many veterans in a quandary because while medical marijuana may be available in their state, Uncle Sam is just waiting to cut them off from care completely if they choose to participate.
Unfortunately, judging from the debacles brought on by amendments stuck in last year’s federal spending bill, this measure may not be worth the paper it’s printed on. If you remember, a rider aimed at banning federal funds from being used to raid and prosecute the medical marijuana community was approved and signed into law by President Obama, but that did not stop the Justice Department from devising a clever scheme to do it any way. Because of these types of issues that seem to present themselves quite regularly in regards to situations involving conflicting state and federal law, many VA physicians may simply hold true to their anti-marijuana policies until the federal government passes something more concrete than a simple budget bill.