After Missouri voters approved a new medical marijuana program by a decisive margin of 65 to 35 percent in November, the state’s veterans have been playing the waiting game. Forget getting their cannabis covered by the government—would they finally be able to talk to their VA doctors about ditching opioids for cannabis (in the case of many chronic pain sufferers) without being at risk of losing their benefits?
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Missouri Veterans Commission Executive Director Grace Link announced new regulations on Monday that clarify the answer, at least for now, is still no.
“We have to meet VA standards,” said Link. “We have to comply with federal guidelines.”
Given the potential conflicts involved with a medicine that is not federally recognized, 1,350 Missouri nursing home residents, and the employees that work at the homes, are officially prohibited by Missouri law from utilizing the state-legal medical cannabis system. The official reasoning has to do with system funding. It costs $80 million to run the state’s veteran health care system, and a portion of that money comes from the federal government.
This is not a small issue. An American Legion study of 1,360 veterans in 2017 found that those who have served in the armed forces are more likely than the general population to seek medical cannabis treatment. 22 percent of that survey reported that they were currently using marijuana to treat a medical condition. Other VA reports have stated that veterans are more likely to suffer from chronic pain—one of the health conditions that science suggests is greatly helped by marijuana—than other US residents.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, veterans’ families are heavily in support of widening scientific and personal access to cannabis. The 2017 American Legion survey found that 92 percent of all veteran households supported more cannabis research, and 83 percent support legalization.
Across the country, veterans’ groups have sought to make clear the positive effects that cannabis have on the lives of war vets. In some states like Oklahoma and Massachusetts, veterans have literally been first in line when cannabis has become available.
Some policy makers have been compelled to address the boundaries that lie between veterans and their medicine. In November, a bi-partisan pair of Congressmen—Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton and Republican Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz—introduced three bills related to vets and cannabis.
Of those three bills, one proposal would make it legal for veterans to discuss their medical cannabis usage with their VA doctors without fear of losing benefits. Another would set up a system in which the VA collects data on vets and their weed usage. The third would fund VA partnerships with cannabis studies.
Since Missouri voters chose to legalize medicinal cannabis, the state has taken in over $2 million in application fees. Once the system is up and running, Link said its tax revenues will likely contribute $20 million a year to the Missouri Veterans’ Health and Care Fund, which will fund operating costs from residential facilities, veteran job training, and health care system costs.