Two bills that would change federal policy regarding the medicinal use of cannabis by military veterans were approved by the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday, a move that sets the stage for a potential floor vote on the measures by the full House.
The first bill, known as the Veterans Equal Access Act of 2019 (HR 1647), would permit doctors at Veterans Administration health care facilities to issue recommendations for state-legal medical cannabis. Under current regulations, VA doctors are not allowed to complete the paperwork necessary for military veterans to use medical marijuana in states that have legalized the medicinal use of cannabis. Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, who introduced the bill and similar legislation in the past, applauded the move by the committee.
“Today was a monumental day for our veterans. We have been working for years to reform this counterproductive policy that forces veterans outside of the VA to receive legal medical cannabis treatment for chronic pain and PTSD,” Blumenauer said. “This is the culmination of the tremendous work of our movement, but we will not be finished until this becomes the law of the land. We must reform our federal cannabis policy.”
Last year, Blumenauer included the Veterans Equal Access Act as an amendment to the annual House defense appropriations bill, but then “reluctantly” withdrew the change from the measure.
“All of a sudden the VA has decided, well, they would be putting their doctors at risk,” Blumenauer said at the time. “I hope that we’ll be able to work together to fix this little quirk to ensure that VA doctors can do what doctors everywhere do in states where medical cannabis is legal, and be able to work with their patients … The VA ought to give their patients — our veterans — the same consideration to be able to have these conversations with the doctors who know them best.”
Bill Authorizes Medical Marijuana Research
The second bill approved by the committee, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2019 (HR 712), would direct the V.A. to conduct research into the use of marijuana as a treatment for a range of medical conditions associated with service in the armed forces, including chronic pain and PTSD. The measure was introduced by Democratic Rep. Lou Correa. Similar legislation has been approved by the House Veterans Affairs Committee in the past but has not come to a vote by the full House.
Erik Altieri, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, called on the House of Representatives to pass the bills approved on Thursday.
“Our veterans put their lives on the line to defend our country, the absolute least we owe them is to ensure they are taken care of when they return to civilian life,” Altieri said. “It is imperative that we approve legislation such as the Veterans Equal Access Act so that the countless vets suffering from post-traumatic stress and other debilitating disorders have access to the safe and effective option of medical marijuana treatment.”
If the bills come to House vote and are passed, they would still face approval from the Senate and President Donald Trump before becoming law. A House vote has not yet been scheduled.