In the latest development signalling the possible end of the failed war on drugs, Congress voted to lift the ban on military vets’ access to medical cannabis in states where it’s legal. President Obama’s signature is now the only thing standing between vets and possible treatment for PTSD and a host of other conditions.
“Both the House and Senate approved measures Thursday to block the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from enforcing its rule that prohibits its doctors from even discussing the treatment,” RT reported.
Proud to vote for amendment that makes it easier for veterans to use medical marijuana. Vets should have access to all treatments. #MilConVA
— Congressman Nadler (@RepJerryNadler) May 19, 2016
“We are pleased that both the House and Senate have made it clear that the Veterans Administration should not punish doctors for recommending medical cannabis to their veteran patients,” Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), told Marijuana.com. “Combat veterans are disproportionately affected by several conditions that medical cannabis can effectively treat, including chronic pain, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury. We anticipate this amendment will reach the president, and once signed, it will give V.A. physicians another tool in their toolbox to treat the healthcare needs of America’s veterans.”
— AP Eastern U.S. (@APEastRegion) March 22, 2016
In April, the first ever trial of medical cannabis — including its smoked form — for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by vets was approved by the Drug Enforcement Agency. This whole-plant study, in the context of Congress’ actions Thursday, show the government might finally be loosening the reins on cannabis as the legitimate medical option it has proven to be for countless people — and particularly veterans.
Medical marijuana provides relief for an incredibly broad and varied number of ailments — from PTSD and anxiety, to relief from chronic pain, cancer treatment, and even aiding those attempting to free themselves from opiate addiction. Cannabis prohibition so stigmatized ‘marijuana,’ that such treatments are still wholly unavailable to many who need it — and, depending arbitrarily on which state a person lives, could land a hefty prison term.
“From what I hear from veterans is that medical marijuana has helped them deal with pain and PTSD, particularly as an alternative to opioids,” noted Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who sponsored the lifting the ban for the House — known as the Veterans Equal Access Amendment. “I commend my colleagues for showing compassion and supporting our wounded warriors. Today’s vote is a win for these men and women who have done so much for us and deserve equal treatment in being able to consult with, and seek a recommendation from, their personal V.A. physician about medical marijuana.”
In fact, as Blumenauer noted during debate over the amendment, “The death rate from opioids among VA health care is nearly double the national average.”
House passes my amendment, 233-189, to remove restrictions preventing VA doctors from recommending medical #marijuana to qualified veterans!
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) May 19, 2016
As the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, “in spite of the low level of illicit drug use, abuse of prescription drugs is higher among service members than among civilians and is on the increase […] Pain reliever prescriptions written by military physicians quadrupled between 2001 and 2009 — to almost 3.8 million.” NIDA also notes, as of 2008, nearly half of all service members — 47 percent — reported binge drinking, which is another condition reportedly alleviated by medical cannabis.
Congress’ move to allow veterans to access medical pot also departs from a move in December that maintained the rule disallowing V.A. physicians to even discuss it as treatment.
“It’s looking like this could finally be the year the federal government stops making veterans jump through costly, time-consuming hoops just to get legal access to medical marijuana,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, according to the Military Times. “There is absolutely no reason the VA should be preventing its doctors from helping veterans who served our country find relief with medical marijuana.”
Let's get these Veterans healthy #cannabis treatment!!!
— Eugene Monroe (@MrEugeneMonroe) May 20, 2016
Various discrepancies between the House and Senate versions will be ironed out in meetings before the legislation lands on Obama’s desk, where it is expected to be passed into law.
Though the legislation is certainly a welcome departure from strict limiting of vets’ access to a valuable treatment, the arbitrariness of state law and blanket federal cannabis prohibition will still prevent those in need from receiving the medicine they so need.