Congress is sending mixed messages to veterans about marijuana

Matt Saintsing
June 08, 2018 - 1:22 pm



A powerful Senate Committee voted Thursday to allow VA physicians to recommend marijuana to veterans, a day before a House panel blocked multiple amendments concerning veteran access to medical cannabis.

These diametrically opposing views in Congress' two bodies are sending mixed signals to veterans, of which the vast majority want to see the VA research what, if any, medical benefits marijuana has to those suffering from post-traumatic stress, chronic pain, and other service-related ailments.

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved of an amendment offered by Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) that would facilitate a more open dialogue between veterans and their doctors about any potential marijuana use.

The amendment “simply allows veterans to discuss that option with their VA doc or physician,” said Daines.

Where it stands now, veterans are free to participate in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs, and still receive healthcare at the VA. So, even though marijuana remains illegal federally, veterans don’t risk losing their medical benefits if they choose to imbibe.

But under the current VA policy, government doctors are prohibited from recommending cannabis for veterans, even its states where it’s allowed.

In a statement, Daines said, “Veterans should not be discriminated against when they seek care at the VA. They deserve access to the treatment that best suits their medical needs, just like they would receive at a non-VA clinic."

Merkley added that currently it’s an “incredible inconvenience for veterans to be told they have to seek out a whole new medical system” to get marijuana recommendations.

If the legislation advanced Thursday makes its way into the Fiscal Year 2019 VA spending bill, the agency would no longer be able to enforce its ban on medical cannabis recommendations.

But what’s true for the Senate, isn’t for the House.

For the second year in a row, the House Rules Committee blocked several marijuana related amendments, including one that would allow VA physicians to fill out the forms needed for veterans to receive state-legal medical cannabis.

Republican leaders in the House really, really don’t want their colleagues to vote on cannabis, as they’ve successfully put up roadblocks over the past few years to avoid the issue from reaching the House floor.

But Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who led the push for the amendment along with 17 other cosponsors, placed blame directly on committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas).

“By blocking this vote, Chairman Sessions has turned his back on our wounded warriors, commonsense, and the will of the American people. He should be ashamed,” he said.

Sessions, who is not related to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, had made it a tradition to block each and every marijuana amendment over the past several years.

Last year, a survey commissioned by the American Legion found that 92 percent of all veterans support researching medical cannabis, while 82 percent want to see straight legalization.

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