Amendment to allow VA doctors to help veterans get medical marijuana pulled from vote

Abbie Bennett
June 24, 2019 - 3:33 pm
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An amendment to the House's annual spending bill that could have allowed Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to help veterans access medical cannabis was pulled from a vote. 

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., co-chairman of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, withdrew an amendment he has offered several times before that would have allowed VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis to their patients in states where the substance is legal, and help them through the process to get it. 

Blumenauer, on the House floor, said "the VA has not been as helpful as it should be" in aiding veterans seeking medical cannabis as an alternative treatment for issues including chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, instead of highly addictive opioids and other drugs.

"All of a sudden the VA has decided, well, they would be putting their doctors at risk," he said. "I hope that we'll be able to work together to fix this little quirk to ensure that VA doctors can do what doctors everywhere do in states where medical cannabis is legal, and be able to work with their patients ... The VA ought to give their patients -- our veterans -- the same consideration to be able to have these conversations with the doctors who know them best." 

The amendment Blumenauer said he "reluctantly" withdrew would have prohibited the VA from interfering with a veteran's participation in state-level medical marijuana programs and prohibited the VA from denying that veteran VA services. It also would have allowed VA doctors to recommend their patients participate in legal medical cannabis programs.

A standalone bill, the Veterans Equal Access Act, sponsored by Blumenauer, is similar to the amendment he withdrew and is still in committee.

Republicans and Democrats appear in general agreement that Congress should take action to explore expanding access to veterans and plan to require the VA to study its use.

VA leadership has repeatedly said they strongly oppose draft legislation that could expand veteran access to medical marijuana, citing its classification as a Schedule I substance by the federal government, though so far 33 states have legalized it to some degree. VA leaders said as long as the substance remains Schedule I, they will look to the Drug Enforcement Agency and Department of Justice for what to allow. 

“This committee can make strong proposals for us to move forward with recommendations of filling out forms and such, but in the end, we need to go back to DEA and DOJ for their opinion. I’ve not seen anything to suggest their opinion will change,” Larry Mole, chief consultant for VA population health, said at a previous House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.

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