A bill recently introduced to Congress would give veterans access to medical marijuana.

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Titled the “Veterans Equal Access Act,” H.R. 1647 is intended “to authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs health care providers to provide recommendations and opinions to veterans regarding participation in State marijuana programs.”

The bill was introduced by Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer from Oregon. Twelve other legislators have signed on as cosponsors.

Veterans' Limited Access

veterans affairs outpatient clinic iStock / jetcityimage

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Medical cannabis is now legal for medical use in 33 states and D.C. Many of those states list PTSD and chronic pain as valid medical conditions which qualify patients for medical marijuana certification under state programs.

Despite marijuana’s legal status, up until now, veterans in those same states have been strictly prohibited by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) from participating in state medical programs.

The VA’s official position on medical marijuana has been to discourage its use by veterans altogether. On their website, the VA explicitly states, “there is no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD. In fact, research suggests that marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD.”

According to Rep. Blumenauer, “For too long, our veterans have been denied access to highly effective medical marijuana treatment for conditions like chronic pain and PTSD. Medical marijuana has shown proven benefits for treating these conditions and denying our veterans access to them is shameful. This simple bill would align veterans VA treatment with their very popular state laws, usually approved by the voters.”

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The Veterans' Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act

Senator Brian Schatz and Rep. Barbara Lee recently introduced a companion piece of legislation, The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, back in February of this year. Similarly, that bill would allow “a veteran to use, possess, or transport medical marijuana in accordance with applicable state law,” as well as permit “a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Physician to discuss with a veteran the use of medical marijuana as a treatment if the physician is in a state that authorizes such treatment.”

In a press release, said Sen. Schatz, “In 33 states, doctors and their patients have the option to use medical marijuana to manage pain – unless those doctors work for the VA and their patients are veterans. This bill gives VA doctors in these states the option to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, and it also promises to shed light on how medical marijuana can help with the nation’s opioid epidemic.”

Veterans suffer disproportionately from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the VA’s website, between 10 and 20 percent of veterans returning home from active military duty are diagnosed with PTSD.

Along with PTSD, veterans often deal with chronic pain resulting from injuries sustained during their service.

The use of medical cannabis for the treatment of chronic pain has been well established.

Research has shown that medical marijuana is a valid treatment for PTSD. In fact, many veterans are already using cannabis medically to treat their PTSD symptoms.

Early this year, Missouri banned medical marijuana use by veterans living in VA run nursing homes.

The first FDA-approved clinical trial of medical marijuana for its use in treating the symptoms of PTSD in veterans has just begun.

A similar bill was approved by the Senate last year but failed to pass the House of Representatives, thanks especially to Rep. Pete Sessions, a Republican from Texas, who actively blocked the legislation from being voted on.