An amendment to the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier last week put military veterans one step closer to having access to medical marijuana.
According to the additional language attached to the bill, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would be prohibited from interfering with a veteran’s ability to obtain medical marijuana. This would allow VA doctors, for the first time ever, to writ medicinal cannabis recommendations for veterans residing in states where it’s legal.
The amendment, authored and introduced by Senators Steve Daines (R-MT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), has bipartisan support, as evidenced by the 24-7 passing vote. It ensures that veterans have equal access to all of the medical options available in their local community, according to a statement from Senator Daines’ office.
In introducing the amendment, Senator Merkley stated “We often talk about how our soldiers stand up for us, and we need to stand up for them“.
Per current policy, VA doctors are strictly prohibited from providing patients with the necessary authorization required to purchase medicinal cannabis from their local dispensary. This situation has forced veterans seeking medical marijuana to consult doctors outside the VA network.
The use of marijuana also poses additional issues for those veterans who are on narcotic painkiller medication. VA patients who are prescribed narcotic painkillers must sign what’s called an “opioid pain care agreement”. Part of that agreement requires that patients consent to a urine, saliva or blood test to “make sure your opioids get into your body,” according to a copy of the agreement provided by the VA. These tests can also detect when a patient is using marijuana. This puts veterans in a predicament where they must choose either their pills or their marijuana.
According to Daines, the current VA policy is a “violation of veterans’ rights to talk openly and freely with their doctor.”
The amendment was passed in the Senate last year with a vote of 20-10, and passed in the House as well, but was inexplicably removed during a special committee meeting before the final appropriations bill was approved.
This year saw three Republican senators who last year voted “no” on the measure changing their vote to “yes”, aligning with the rest of country’s change in sentiment towards medical marijuana.
However, the news isn’t all positive. Just this past Tuesday, the House Rules Committee, chaired by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), blocked their version of a similar amendment from even going to the House floor for a full vote. This move comes despite the measure being passed by the House last year by a vote of 233-189, as well as gaining even more bi-partisan support this year. The House amendment was co-sponsored by nine Democrats and nine Republicans.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), the House amendment’s lead sponsor, pointed out that the measure had “stronger support in the House and Senate than ever before.”
“All we want is equal treatment for our wounded warriors,” said Blumenauer in the statement. “This provision overwhelmingly passed on the House floor last year – and bipartisan support has only grown. It’s outrageous that the Rules Committee won’t even allow a vote for our veterans. They deserve better. They deserve compassion.”
There appears to be more optimism that the amendment will make it into this year’s final bill, after negotiations between the House and Senate are finalized.