On Thursday, April 30, Congress defeated a bill that would have allowed Veterans Administration (VA) doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for military veterans. Currently, it is against policy for VA doctors to complete the necessary documentation to allow a veteran to qualify for medical cannabis — even for vets who reside in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal.
The Veterans Equal Access Act had bi-partisan support and was co-sponsored by three Democrats and five Republicans. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to prevent it from being defeated by only three votes (213 against, 210 for).
In response to the results, Dan Riffle, the Federal Policy Director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) in Washington, D.C. optimistically Tweeted:
“Last year VA vote lost 195-221. This year it was 210-213. Sucks to lose, but gotta recognize progress. Onward…”
The unfortunate aspect of these results is that 213 members of Congress are against helping the nation’s veterans gain relief from conditions obtained while serving their country — simply because the source of that relief is a stigmatized and embattled plant. Veterans suffering from extreme post traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries, depression, and other ailments, many of whom could gain considerable relief from medical cannabis, will get no help from the Veterans Administration or Congress.
According to the MPP, “Approximately 20 percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or PTSD.” The lobbying group also reported that, due largely to these conditions, the suicide rate of veterans is 50 percent higher than the national average.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, states that have legalized medical marijuana have noticed a decrease in suicide rates. Despite this evidence, Congress has decided to put politics and fear above the needs of the soldiers who have made significant sacrifices for the nation.
It’s too soon to say if the bill will be reintroduced again by its sponsors. One thing is certain, however: As Congress drags its feet and refuses to face the reality of the medical efficacy of cannabis, states will continue to implement medical marijuana programs. Sadly, it appears that, for the time being, soldiers who gain relief from cannabis will do so not with help from their VA doctor, but instead via the black market or in a state that has legalized it.