Congress approves medical marijuana for veterans

Congress took a big step forward last week in enabling veterans to legally access medical marijuana.

By Bronte Price, PoliticKING

U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate on Thursday approved an amendment that would prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs from using federal dollars to stop doctors from providing patients with recommendations to use medical marijuana.

Representative Earl Blumenauer, who introduced the House amendment, said prior to the vote, "The death rate from opioids among VA health care is nearly double the national average." He added, "From what I hear from veterans is that medical marijuana has helped them deal with pain and PTSD, particularly as an alternative to opioids."

Cannabis advocates have been confident that the amendment would make its way through the Senate again this year. There was concern, however, that the House would continue to reject the measure.

After some debate, the House lawmakers voted 233-to-189 in favor of allowing the amendment to move forward under a larger Military Appropriations Bill. The Senate, as expected, did not waste any time supporting the amendment. Lawmakers in the upper chamber then voted 89-to-8 in favor of allowing VA doctors the ability to discuss medical marijuana as a potential treatment option.

Both chambers of Congress will now begin negotiation in order to reach an agreement on an amendment that can be included in the 2017 Military Construction Appropriations Bill. There is also a chance that it will be included in the final 2017 Fiscal Year budget that is slated to be signed by President Obama at the end of the year.

Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, applauded congress for their action. “Prohibiting VA doctors from recommending medical marijuana does nothing to help our veterans,” Capecchi told High Times in an emailed statement. “Current VA policy is preventing physicians from thoroughly monitoring patients’ medication decisions and engaging in frank conversations about available treatment options. It dramatically undermines the doctor-patient relationship.”

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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