Qualifying veterans living in nursing homes in Missouri are being actively prevented from accessing medical marijuana; this is according to a statement made last week by Grace Link, Executive Director of the Missouri Veterans Commission. Said Link, “We have to meet VA standards. We have to comply with federal guidelines.”

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Cannabis is currently illegal on the federal level in the United States and remains classified as a Schedule I drug. With marijuana still federally illegal, then, and despite medical legalization in individual states, the VA is officially banning veterans living in federally operating nursing homes from using and possessing medical cannabis.

Medical cannabis only recently became legal in Missouri, with the passage of Amendment 2, making Missouri the 32nd state to legalize medical marijuana.

As many already know, veterans suffer disproportionately from chronic intractable pain and PTSD. According to researchers, in fact, nearly 50% of veterans report suffering from chronic pain, while PTSD is 2 to 4 times more common in veterans. In combination with the Department of Defense, the VA annually spends over $3 billion on treating PTSD in veterans.

Last year, former Missouri Senate candidate, Jason Kander, dropped out of the race for Mayor of Kansas City, citing his personal struggles with PTSD and depression. Kander served as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan in 2006.

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Last November, Missouri residents turned up to vote in favor of making medical cannabis accessible to those with qualifying health conditions. The amendment to the state constitution created a provision allowing state-licensed medical providers in Missouri to recommend medical cannabis for an expansive list of qualifying medical conditions, including:

  • Cancer
  • HIVEepilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • Intractable pain (and specifically, intractable migraines)
  • PTSD
  • Terminal illness
  • and conditions “normally treated with a prescription medication that would lead to physical or psychological dependence…[where] marijuana…would serve as a safer alternative to the prescription medication,” as well as for “any other chronic, debilitating or medical condition.”

Evidently, however, legalization on the state level won’t apply to the over 1,350 U.S. veterans currently living in state nursing homes run by the VA. Missouri officials allegedly cited worries over the potential loss of federal funding totaling over $80M as the primary reasoning behind their recent decision to prohibit the use of medical cannabis in VA run nursing homes.

Dr. Sue Sisley is conducting the first FDA-approved Phase II study on the use of cannabis for the treatment of PTSD in U.S. military veterans. Funded by a $2.1M grant from the University of Colorado, the triple-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study is an important initial step towards getting veterans with PTSD the support that they need. According to Sisley,

“I was dismissive and judgmental, then I started losing a lot of vets in my practice to suicide, and it became a big wake-up call. The veteran community has a higher rate of prescription drug overdose, and many vets [have] discovered they can substitute cannabis for the more addictive medications they’ve been prescribed, which is how we started to examine this.”