A good thing is happening in the realm of medical marijuana reform, and while it’s happening mostly under the radar, it could have big ramifications for suffering patients everywhere.
The U.S. Senate, and now the House of Representatives, have finally passed legislation that would make it easier for America’s veterans to get their hands on a medication that could change their lives. The bill, part of an amendment attached to the federal budget, passed both houses in May.
The votes broke an impasse, as the Senate had approved the amendment repeatedly in recent years while the House had always voted it down. This time, the chambers agreed on the need to make it easier for veterans to get medical marijuana.
Veterans frequently suffer from PTSD
The drug can be an effective treatment for multiple health problems commonly experienced by veterans, especially chronic pain and PTSD. Pain treatment frequently leads to addiction, as it involves powerful opium-derived medications.
“The death rate from opioids among VA health care is nearly double the national average,” said U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon. “From what I hear from veterans is that medical marijuana has helped them deal with pain and PTSD, particularly as an alternative to opioids.”
The House acted first, overcoming expectations that lawmakers there would again kill prospects for VA reform; the amendment passed by a vote of 233 to 189. The Senate quickly followed with a vote of 89 to 8. The amendment now moves to the desk of President Barack Obama as part of a larger military appropriations bill.
Bill allows VA doctors to discuss MMJ
The amendment specifically allows VA doctors to discuss the efficacy of medical cannabis with their veteran patients. Because the drug is prohibited by federal law for any use, doctors have always been barred from doing so. The new legislation blocks the Obama administration from using federal money to continue enforcing that ban.
The amendment will now move to a conference committee, where members of each house will negotiate a compromise bill with provisions from both their versions. If they succeed – an outcome considered likely – the amendment would be wrapped into the federal budget for the 2017 fiscal year, a budget Obama is expected to sign.
The votes on Capitol Hill drew praise from cannabis policy advocates, who have called attention to veterans’ medical marijuana needs for years. Success in the House and Senate marks a major step forward for reformers, who continue their push to make marijuana more widely available to all patients who need it. Widespread public support for military veterans likely made it easier for lawmakers to go along with this legislation.
“Prohibiting VA doctors from recommending medical marijuana does nothing to help our veterans,” said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Current VA policy is preventing physicians from thoroughly monitoring patients’ medication decisions and engaging in frank conversations about available treatment options. It dramatically undermines the doctor-patient relationship. This measure removes unnecessary barriers to medical marijuana access for the men and women who have volunteered to serve in our armed forces.”