VA Doctors to See Marijuana Gag-Order Lifted Following Senate Committee Vote

Veterans Administration doctors will soon be able to recommend medical marijuana to their patients per the bipartisan Veterans Equal Access Amendment passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), was tacked onto a military construction and veterans affairs spending bill and is almost certain to pass when voted on by the Senate.

The passage of the bill by the committee represents the first time marijuana law reforms have been moved by the Senate. Under the current regime the Department of Veterans Affairs prohibits healthcare providers from so much as discussing marijuana as a treatment option for veterans even in states where it is legal.

“Veterans in medical marijuana states should be treated the same as any other resident, and should be able to discuss marijuana with their doctor and use it if it’s medically necessary,” Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance said in a press release. “They have served this country valiantly, so the least we can do is allow them to have full and open discussions with their doctors.”

A 2014 study by the RAND Corporation found 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while a 2011 study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of health put that figure between four and 17 percent. A 2014 study by doctors in New Mexico, the first state to approve marijuana for PTSD, found a 75 percent reduction in PTSD symptom scores for veterans who used marijuana as a treatment.

“Veterans disproportionately suffer from a number of conditions that can be effectively treated with medical marijuana, such as chronic pain, PTSD, phantom limb syndrome, traumatic brain injury and cancer from battlefield exposure to carcinogens, just to name a few,” Mike Liszewski, Americans for Safe Access government affairs director said.

Michael Krawitz, executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis and a disabled Air Force Veteran notes that both Canada and Israel will supply their veterans with marijuana for free as part of their veterans benefits program while veterans in the U.S., at this point, can’t so much as have a conversation with their VA doctor. Krawitz says in some cases VA doctors in legal states will refer their patients to another doctor that will prescribe marijuana – however for many veterans the financial cost of seeing a non-VA doctor is prohibitive.

Krawtiz says if veterans are allowed to talk to their VA doctor about marijuana therapies they will at be able to finally learn about their options and determine whether it is right for them.

“What we need to see is VA doctors being allowed to recommend and then an organized effort to educate the VA doctors about the cannabinoid system and cannabis as medicine and then we should see a fair number of doctors participating and utilizing this as a medicine,” Krawitz said. “There are a lot of doctors in the VA system that already know about cannabis as medicine and their hands are tied.”

Krawitz agrees that the committee vote is a step in the right direction but only veterans in the 23 legal states and Washington, D.C. will be helped by the new rules. He would like to see marijuana downgraded from its schedule one status so the plant can be properly researched with hopes that further research will provide veterans with more access options.

Photo Credit: Public Affairs Office Fort Wainright

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