Yesterday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, which will allow Veterans Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where it is legal. The approval of this amendment marks the first time the Senate has advanced marijuana law reform legislation.
The amendment has significant bipartisan support and is expected to be approved by the full Senate. Republican Senator Steve Daines (Montana) and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley (Oregon) sponsored the amendment, which was included in the military construction and veterans affairs spending bill.
Open access for veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs does not allow its doctors to provide patients with opinions or recommendations as to participating in a state’s legal medical marijuana program. The amendment seeks to change this by allowing VA doctors and other health care providers to provide recommendations and opinions regarding the use of medical marijuana for veterans who live in states where medical marijuana is legal.
Currently, the VA is the only federal healthcare program that prohibits physicians from discussing and recommending medical marijuana to their patients. Medicare is a federal healthcare program and patients can openly discuss medical marijuana with their doctor. Veterans who have served our country, however, are currently denied this right.
Many veterans return from service and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries. In 2014, researchers found that people who suffer from PTSD saw more than a 75% reduction in the severity of their symptoms when using marijuana to treat their illness.
2014 was a record year for marijuana legislation
During 2014, the United States House of Representatives voted five time to allow states to set their own marijuana policies. In May 2014, the House of Representatives approved a bill which included an amendment that prevented the DEA from pursuing marijuana business activities in states where it is already legal. This bill was incorporated into the spending bill which was signed into law by President Obama. Marijuana advocates expect to see the Veterans Equal Access Amendment added into the final military construction and veterans affairs spending bill that President Obama will sign.
A version of the amendment introduced by Senators Daines and Merkley was included in the bipartisan bill submitted to the Senate in March. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act is the first bill submitted to the United States Senate. The CARERS Act would effectively end the federal ban on medical marijuana and implement a series of reforms. The Senators who introduced the bill are Republican Rand Paul (Ky.), Democrat Cory Booker (N.J.), and Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y).
Now that the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved one element in the CARERS Act, the Senate Judiciary Committee should hold hearings on the full bill. Currently, 27 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, decriminalized marijuana, or both. Also, 4 states have legalized recreational marijuana and 14 states have legalized a limited form of marijuana by allowing patients access to cannabidiol (CBD). It is time for change!