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In a rare bipartisan move this week, members of Congress introduced legislation to authorize Veteran’s Administration doctors to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to veterans. Currently banned from doing so, even in states where medical or recreational use of the drug is legal, advocates are cheering for this proposed prescription for change known as the Veterans Equal Access Act.

Last year, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced similar legislation which failed to get a hearing, much less a floor vote. With five Republicans and three other Democrats co-sponsoring this year’s bill, things may well prove different this time around. In a released statement Rep. Blumenauer proclaimed,

“Our antiquated drug laws must catch up with the real suffering of so many of our veterans. This is now a moral cause and a matter of supreme urgency.”

He continued,

” It is unconscionable that a VA doctor cannot offer a full range of treatments, including medical marijuana, which in many cases has been shown to have worked, to an American veteran who fought valiantly for our country. Conscience dictates that we not coldly ignore these desperate men and women, and that we remove government from its paternalistic stance between patient and doctor.”

Before rushing out to buy a bong or stock up on rolling papers, veterans should remember that this is the same Congress that recently overruled 70 percent of the voters in our nation’s capital who voted to get high legally.

One thing is certain however, returning veterans have a problem with drugs, and a serious problem at that. Addiction rates to much more lethal, serious drugs are soaring as the number of veterans found dead from an opiate overdose is almost double the national average. Even this Congress, clueless as they often appear, is well aware of the mounting challenges faced by beleaguered troops weary from years of war. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), divorce, suicide and homelessness are all on the rise among returning veterans.

Everyone agrees something must be done, but what? Can legalized cannabis cure some of these ills, reduce others’ symptoms and pain, possibly even save lives? It’s high time we find out. Reams of white paper studies would suggest so. Even law enforcement officials admit in the states where legalization has occurred, crime rates are down, sales to minors are virtually non-existent and none of the doomsday scenarios have yet proven true.

Finding ways to get these soldiers out of back alleys and away from prescription pill mills should be a national priority. Adequate housing and gainful employment can offer little to someone in the throws of addiction. These men and women fought bravely for our freedom and security. Isn’t it time we arm their caregivers with the tools and resources available to secure their freedom from drug dependence and suffering? While this ought to be a no-brainer piece of legislation, its fate, like too many of our vets, remains far from certain.

Budget-minded legislators should at least ask themselves, if for no other reason, can medical marijuana reduce the spiraling cost of care for returning veterans? If that doesn’t whet their appetite for savings maybe they should consider toking a roll call of an entirely different sort.

photo credit: pointsadhs

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