Bipartisan Congressmen Urge Support For Medical Marijuana Bill For Military Veterans They’ll Be Introducing Soon



A bipartisan push to provide military veterans with access to medical marijuana is underway again, with the sponsors of a reform proposal circulating a letter to congressional colleagues on Wednesday asking them to support the legislation, which they plan to introduce in Congress soon.

The Veterans Equal Access Act from Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Brian Mast (R-FL), both co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, would allow doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where it’s legal.

In a Dear Colleague letter that was distributed to other House offices and shared with Marijuana Moment, the sponsors said the legislation would “provide equal access to state-legal medical cannabis for veterans.”

“Most states with state-legal medical cannabis programs require some sort of recommendation or approval from a medical provider for patients to enroll in the program,” it says. “However, VA policy prevents VA physicians and care providers from any participation, including helping with the required paperwork or forms.”

“This forces veterans to seek care outside of the VA system to receive their medical cannabis recommendations, which can interrupt continuity of care, lead to mistakes or gaps in care, and require veterans to pay out of pocket for addition physician visits. VA physicians should not be denied the ability to offer a recommendation that they think may meet the needs of their patients. Veterans should not be forced outside the VA system to seek treatment that is legal in their state.”

The reform, which is identical to committee-approved versions from past years and also cosponsored by Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), was previously pursued through the appropriations process as an amendment—but lawmakers have shifted gears to focus on the standalone bill following pushback from VA, which has consistently opposed modest marijuana reform proposals that relate to the department.

Mast, for his part, is a disabled veteran himself who was selected to co-chair the caucus after the prior GOP member, Rep. Don Young (R-AK), passed away.

“The Veterans Equal Access Act authorizes VA providers to assist veterans in providing recommendations, opinions, and completion of the forms reflecting these recommendations or opinions,” the letter says.

“It does not authorize or require VA clinicians to prescribe or dispense marijuana, nor does it require VA providers to provide recommendations, opinions, or paperwork for medical marijuana programs,” it continues. “It simply allows them to candidly discuss medical cannabis and offer recommendations in the best interests of their patients.”

“The premise is very simple: this zero-score bill would help thousands of veterans and cost the VA no money.”

The Congressional Budget Office conducted a fiscal analysis of an earlier version of the bill in 2020, finding that it would not cost the government anything to implement.

Separately, there have reportedly been high-level talks in both chambers about advancing a package of incremental cannabis reform bills this year, including marijuana policy that pertains to veterans. It’s yet to be seen if that potential package would feature this veterans measure in particular.

The Dear Colleague letter highlights support from several major cannabis and veterans advocacy groups, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IVAV), Veterans Cannabis Coalition, NORML, Drug Policy Alliance, Council for Federal Cannabis Regulation, U.S. Cannabis Council, Better Organizing to Win Legalization and National Cannabis Industry Association.

Read the full text of the letter to congressional lawmakers on marijuana access for veterans below: 

“Dear Colleague,

We invite you to cosponsor the Veterans Equal Access Act (H.R. 1647 from the 116th Congress), a bill to provide equal access to state-legal medical cannabis for veterans participating in their Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare benefits. This bipartisan bill passed the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on March 12, 2020. There are no changes to the bill from last Congress.

To date, 37 states have enacted medical cannabis programs, and many veterans report using cannabis for medical purposes as a substitute for prescription drugs. The VA National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has acknowledged that veterans use cannabis to relieve symptoms of PTSD, and that in many states, PTSD is a qualifying condition for enrollment in medical cannabis programs.

Most states with state-legal medical cannabis programs require some sort of recommendation or approval from a medical provider for patients to enroll in the program. However, VA policy prevents VA physicians and care providers from any participation, including helping with the required paperwork or forms.

This forces veterans to seek care outside of the VA system to receive their medical cannabis recommendations, which can interrupt continuity of care, lead to mistakes or gaps in care, and require veterans to pay out of pocket for addition physician visits. VA physicians should not be denied the ability to offer a recommendation that they think may meet the needs of their patients. Veterans should not be forced outside the VA system to seek treatment that is legal in their state.

The Veterans Equal Access Act authorizes VA providers to assist veterans in providing recommendations, opinions, and completion of the forms reflecting these recommendations or opinions. It does not authorize or require VA clinicians to prescribe or dispense marijuana, nor does it require VA providers to provide recommendations, opinions, or paperwork for medical marijuana programs. It simply allows them to candidly discuss medical cannabis and offer recommendations in the best interests of their patients.

The premise is very simple: this zero-score bill would help thousands of veterans and cost the VA no money.”

VA also recently made clear that it won’t provide support for treatment involving marijuana as part of a new grants program aimed at preventing veteran suicide.

VA’s position on marijuana has been a source of consistent frustration for advocates and veteran service organizations who have been pushing for expanded research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis.

House and Senate committees held joint hearings in March to hear from veterans service organizations (VSOs) about how Congress and the federal government can better serve their constituents, and several of the groups brought up the need to ease restrictions on marijuana.

Separately, military veterans would be “encouraged” to discuss medical marijuana treatment without the fear of losing federal benefits under a bill sponsored by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA).

The main thrust of that legislation is to codify existing policies that allow VA doctors to talk about medical cannabis with patients as well as protections for veterans who are candid about their history with marijuana treatment. By doing so, it would enshrine these polices into law so that they could not later be changed administratively by future VA leaders.

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