For the first time, the U.S. Senate is moving forward with marijuana law reform. On May 21, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 18 to 12 on a bipartisan bill to allow doctors with the Veterans Administration to recommend medical marijuana to patients where it is legally available.
Currently, veterans are not able to talk about using cannabis as a viable treatment plan with their physicians. Doctors with the VA are prohibited from completing forms for patients who are seeking either opinions or recommendations regarding medical marijuana. However, other federal medical programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, permit patients to explore cannabis as treatment in states where it is legal.
“They can’t discuss all the options available to them that they could discuss if they literally walked next door to a non-VA facility,”
Said Senator Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana who introduced the legislation.
“I don’t believe we should discriminate against veterans just because they are in the care of the VA.”
The Veterans Equal Access Amendment is part of a veterans affairs and military construction spending bill that is expected to pass in the Senate before heading to a House-Senate conference committee.
Medical marijuana has been proven to help patients who suffer traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, two conditions frequent among veterans. In a 2014 study, participants who suffered from PTSD had more than a 75 percent reduction in symptoms when using cannabis.
Congress has shut down similar measures in the past. In April of this year, the House Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment before the full House passed a marijuana-free version of the bill. However, last year, the House voted in favor of allowing states to set their own marijuana policies five times. In one instance, legislators prevented the U.S. Justice Department from financially supporting any acts that would undermine state cannabis laws.
Advocates are unsure whether the Senate will attempt to remove the cannabis provision from the current legislation. They are urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to start hearings on the full bill, which many see as upholding a constitutional right.
“Veterans see this victory as a major step forward in restoring our first amendment rights within the VA,” said disabled Navy veteran TJ Thompson. “This will allow for a safe, open dialogue between providers and patients, and allows veterans to be treated the same as any other patient.”