Until now, doctors from the Department of Veteran Affairs could recommend medical marijuana to vets in states where it is legal. On Wednesday, various news outlets reported that the House committee struck this measure down, effectively blocking it from all debate on the House floor. Even if VA doctors want to recommend cannabis to vets in dire need of it, they no longer have any right to do so.
The measure, called “Veterans Equal Access, is an amendment to the VA appropriations bill. Over the last three years, the House committee has been debating it, and in 2016, it passed with a vote of 233-189. It will not get that chance again this year after the House Rules Committee voted to scrap it on Tuesday. Veterans will have to get medical marijuana recommendations from doctors outside the VA.
Medical Marijuana for Vets
According to Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., “This provision overwhelming passed on the House floor last year. The bipartisan report has only grown. It is outrageous that the Rules Committee will not even allow a vote for our military veterans. They deserve better. They deserve compassion.” Across the United States, polls indicate that the vast majority support medical marijuana, which naturally includes vets.
This rejection comes at an interesting time. More veterans than ever are advocating the use of medical cannabis as a treatment for service-related health issues. Most desperately want an alternative to the copious amounts of addictive opioids prescribed to them by traditional doctors. Last August, the American Legion began lobbying for the removal of weed from the Controlled Substances Act.
Listed as a Schedule I drug under the federal government, marijuana remains illegal. In contradiction of all available scientific evidence, it’s listing on the Controlled Substances Act is blatantly incorrect. The Schedule I category of narcotics includes drugs that have a high potential for abuse and no medicinal use, and weed keeps company with heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and other dangerous narcotics on the list.
Quite simply, marijuana does not belong on the list of federally controlled substances, most especially under a Schedule I classification. Studies are daily proving the enormous medical benefits of cannabis, and anecdotal evidence of its healing potential is frankly widespread. Reclassifying marijuana, at the very least, would remove federal obstacles from scientific study.
At the White House in May, VA Secretary David Shulkin claimed openness to any evidence that proves marijuana suitable as treatment. Blumenauer, founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, led efforts to remove the VA policy of forbidding doctors across the nation from discussing cannabis with their patients. The measure had 18 co-sponsors, exactly nine Democrats, and nine Republicans.
Military Vets using Medical Marijuana
Many vets currently treat themselves with marijuana, but they do it predominantly in secret. They use it to manage pain from service injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other debilitating conditions. After blocking the amendment on Tuesday night, the House Rules Committee faces the Twitter backlash. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., promised Twitter followers to continue fighting.
On Wednesday night, the House will further debate the VA appropriations bill. The Rules Committee sent 16 amendments to the House floor for debate. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., attempted to allow lawmakers the opportunity to bring all their amendments to the House floor, but her try was defeated 9-3, with differences clearly along party lines.
Prior to the committee’s Tuesday decision, Blumenauer urged members to let him offer the amendment. Citing information from 2014 by the VA itself, he claimed veterans twice as likely to perish from accidental overdoses as non-veterans. The country would be better off if veterans had easier access to medical marijuana and less dependence on opioid drugs, which is killing them in droves.
According to Blumenauer, “Under this amendment, marijuana would not be dispensed by the VA or used on the federal property. It simply ends the current gag rule that prevents doctors from talking to their patients about it, even if they think it necessary. One Committee Republican, Dan Newhouse of Washington, rose to speak in support of the amendment.
“I have seen firsthand the benefits people derive from medical marijuana,” he explained. “It seems logical to me that if it is available and it works, we should make it available to veterans, as well.” He ended by reiterating support for the effort. The Veterans Equal Access amendment itself passed with bipartisan support in the Senate last year on an 89-9 vote.
However, it did not make it into final legislation during negotiations to reconcile differences between the House and the Senate versions of the VA appropriations bill. So far this year, Senators have passed the amendment out of committee. On July 13, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to include it in the Senate’s version of the VA appropriations bill.
Senator Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, was the one to introduce the amendment. Montana is just one of 29 states where cannabis is legal in some form or other. He claims the current VA policy violates the right of veterans to talk freely and honestly with their physicians. If approved again by the Senate this year, it could survive the final bill, although it failed last year after passing in both chambers.