May 20th 2016
The House of Representatives yesterday voted to approve the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, to allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where the treatment is legal. The amendment had already passed the US Senate Appropriations Committee.
The amendment was introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. It was Blumenauer’s third attempt to pass the amendment; last year, it lost in the House by only three votes. Yesterday, the vote was 233 to 189 in favor.
If signed into law, it will effectively strike down a Department of Veterans Affairs rule forbidding its doctors from recommending medical marijuana—even for veterans experiencing pain, PTSD or other conditions that haven’t responded to traditional treatments. This has forced many veterans to look outside of the VA system and pay out of pocket for medical pot.
This amendment won’t become law until it’s included in the final spending bill at the end of the year, but if that happens as expected, it will help ease the suffering of countless veterans in the 24 states plus the District of Columbia where medical marijuana is currently legal.
“I have been deeply troubled about our inability to adequately deal with our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Blumenauer said. “A lot of them are suffering from PTSD, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury, and these are all conditions that have been shown to respond to medical marijuana.” Veterans have a suicide rate around 50 percent higher than among other citizens with similar demographic characteristics.
Advocacy groups praised Thursday’s vote as a sign of progress .
“We are delighted to lift this outdated, discriminatory policy, which has negatively impacted the lives of so many veterans,” said Michael Collins of the Drug Policy Alliance. “We need all options on the table to treat veterans, and finally Congress has seen sense and will allow veterans to be on an equal footing to other residents of medical marijuana states.”
Veterans themselves celebrated, too. “Today is a monumental day for us vets,” said TJ Thompson, a disabled US Navy Veteran (’98-’04) who lives in Virginia. “Congress has recognized our right to heal, allowing us access to medical cannabis within the VA.”