Earlier last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee put its seal of approval on an amendment that would—for the first time ever—make medical marijuana access for veterans a part of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill.
The rider, which was introduced by Senators Steve Daines of Montana and Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, would “prohibit the use of funds appropriated or other-wise made available under this Act to interfere with the ability of veterans to participate in medicinal marijuana programs approved by States or deny services to such veterans.”
“The amendment ensures that veterans have equal access to all of the medical options available in their local community, to include medical marijuana in states where it is legal,” Daines said in a statement.
As it stands, Veterans Affairs strictly prohibits their doctors from providing patients with the necessary paperwork to purchase cannabis medicine from their local dispensary. Sadly, even though this restriction technically expired more than a year ago, officials with the department have not been in any hurry to put a replacement policy on the books.
Unfortunately, countless veterans interested in trying medical marijuana have been forced to track down doctors outside the VA network—a situation that, for some, has brought about devastating repercussions, such as the loss of prescription drug privileges and other benefits guaranteed to them in exchange for their wartime sacrifice.
The latest Senate approval for this amendment is not the first time the concept of veterans gaining access to medical marijuana has been greeted with support by congressional forces.
Last year, both the House and Senate approved a similar measure, but, in the end, the rider was stripped from the guts of the appropriations bill by a behind-the-scenes conference committee. This underhanded move ruined any possibility of the amendment becoming part of the federal government’s 2017 spending bill, which is set to expire later this year.
Despite more than half the nation having legalized marijuana for medical purposes, many lawmakers feel the herb’s outlaw status in the eyes of the federal government makes it inappropriate for the VA to so much as discuss cannabis treatment with their patients.
Nevertheless, there is an increasing body of evidence that shows cannabis is an effective alternative to addictive painkillers and anxiety medications, which are commonly prescribed to veterans by the VA for conditions ranging from PTSD to chronic pain.
Even the American Legion, notably one of the most influential veterans organization in the country,believes medical marijuana could be a salvation’s wing for the soldiers it represents.
Earlier this year, the Legion sent a letter to President Trump in an effort to persuade him to remove the cannabis plant from its Schedule I classification under the Controlled Substances Act. The organization said that while it is “not asking for it to be legalized,” “there is overwhelming evidence that it has been beneficial for some vets.”
Not surprisingly, the Trump administration has yet to offer up a response to the Legion’s request.
The good news is: There is a distinct possibility that the rider will go the distance this year.
But even if it is included in the Fiscal Budget 2018, the measure, similar to the medical marijuana protections known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, is only a temporary solution. In order to continue providing veterans with the opportunity to use medical marijuana, Congress would have to renew the amendment ever year—leaving the issue open to the possibility of being shutdown without recourse.
Perhaps it is time for Congress to stop pushing all of these short-term patches and get serious about building support for bills aimed at pulling the cannabis plant out of the trenches of prohibition. Only then, will veterans, and civilians, alike, be given the inalienable right to use this substance without the threat of negative consequence.