U.S. Senate Approves Bill to Allow Veterans Access to Medical Cannabis

On the eve of Veteran’s Day, the U.S. Senate passed FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill, which will permit military veterans to access medical marijuana in the 23 states where it is legal.

Until now, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs prohibited VA doctors from issuing cannabis recommendations to veterans. However, under the new legislation, the department will no longer be allowed to spend money to punish veterans who use medical marijuana in accordance with their respective state laws. Further, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, in states where medical cannabis is legal, the new legislation will allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans.

The new legislation is good news for veterans, particularly as the vote coincides with Veteran’s Day and continues the trend of the federal government easing draconian laws while enabling veterans to access medical marijuana for service-related PTSD, anxiety, depression and other ailments. Further, according to a 2012 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs, 30 percent of veterans who served in Afghanistan or Iraq suffer from PTSD, and there is growing evidence that suggests medical cannabis can alleviate symptoms arising from PTSD.

U.S. Marine Veteran Mike Whiter of Operation Overmed says:

It’s about time. It’s sad that it took so long, but I’m glad that the government is finally listening. Although it is a start, there are still 27 states where this bill won’t even matter. We need federal legalization in order for all of us to have safe access to medical cannabis.

Michael Collins, the deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, believes veterans should be treated just the same as other residents. In a press release, Mr. Collins states, “It makes no sense that a veteran can’t use medical marijuana if it helps them and it is legal in their state.”

TJ Thompson, a disabled Navy veteran, was also enthusiastic about the Senate’s support for veterans: “On this eve of Veterans/Armistice Day where we remember those who served in the military and the treaty agreement to reach peace concluding WWI, we see this victory as a step toward a peace treaty with the government we volunteered to defend with our lives and as a step toward restoring our first amendment rights and dignity as citizens of the United States.”

The specific language approved by the Senate was initially added to the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill back in May by committee vote of 18-12:

Sec. 246. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the Department of Veterans Affairs in this Act may be used in a manner that would–

  1. interfere with the ability of a veteran to participate in a State-approved medicinal marijuana program;
  2. deny any services from the Department to a veteran who is participating in such a program; or
  3. limit or interfere with the ability of a health care provider of the Department to make appropriate recommendations, fill out forms, or take steps to comply with such a program.

At a time when bipartisanship is a rarity, this particular legislation garnered support from Republicans and Democrats. Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana and Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon co-sponsored the amendment. The amendment will now go to the House to be negotiated as part of an omnibus spending bill.

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