Congress keeps DC marijuana sales ban in place, but continues to protect states from medical cannabis in spending legislation
Military veterans would be “encouraged” to discuss medical marijuana treatment without fear of losing federal benefits under a new bill sponsored by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA).
The primary purpose of the legislation is to codify existing policies that allow VA physicians to discuss medical cannabis with patients as well as protections for veterans who are candid about their history with marijuana treatment. In doing so, it would enshrine these policies in law so that they could no longer be changed administratively by future VA leaders.
Veterans participating in state-legal cannabis programs could not be made ineligible for “care and services provided by” the VA, the text of the bill says.
The legislation states, however, that people cannot use or consume marijuana on VA property, even in states where marijuana is legal, thinking that this section of the proposal would be repealed if the federal ban was ultimately lifting.
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“Veterans are twice as likely to die from an opioid overdose as American civilians. That’s why we need to normalize the use of medical marijuana among veterans as a safer alternative and not addictive for chronic pain relief,” Moulton said in a Press release. “Veterans have chosen to serve our country, and many of them will face the resulting health issues for the rest of their lives. It is our responsibility to ensure that returning service members have access to all the solutions that allow them to live without pain or anxiety.
Under the proposal, VA practitioners would be required to “honor their patients’ desire to seek other forms of treatment” – but the measure would not explicitly authorize doctors in the department to make recommendations that veterans must participate in state medical cannabis laws as would be the case under previously filed separate legislation,
Veterans are twice as likely to die from an opioid overdose as American civilians.
Today I introduced legislation that would de-stigmatize the use of medical marijuana among veterans as a safer, non-addictive alternative for chronic pain and anxiety. https://t.co/eMPFr0VSUX
— Rep. Seth Moulton (@RepMoulton) March 8, 2022
VA “recognizes that the use of cannabis for medical purposes may be a legitimate alternative treatment and that a Department Medical Service will not refer a veteran for drug treatment solely because of the use of cannabis for medical purposes. “, continues the text of the bill.
“The Department’s medical providers will annotate a veteran’s cannabis use in the veteran’s medical record so the information is available in treatment planning.” As with all clinical information, this is part of the confidential medical record and is protected by laws and regulations on privacy and patient confidentiality. The department’s medical providers will not record that a patient has a marijuana addiction problem in their medical records if the patient uses medical cannabis responsibly.
In addition to being able to discuss medical marijuana treatment options with patients, VA physicians could “adjust treatment plans as needed.” And those adjustments “should be relevant and a veteran should have the freedom to seek a second opinion if they feel the change is not fair.”
Additionally, while AV providers must abide by federal law, the bill states that scientists “may conduct research into the benefits and risks of cannabis under regulatory approval.” Again, this provision appears to codify existing VA policies, as the department has facilitated some cannabis research for certain conditions that commonly afflict the veteran community – thought advocates want many more studies to be done.
Additionally, VA physicians “may not deter participation in out-of-department medical cannabis research,” the bill states.
Moulton’s legislation also establishes guidelines for veteran surveys that the VA secretary should administer regarding issues such as dosage, frequency of use, and the types of marijuana that are used by veteran patients.
It would further require VA to provide its physicians with “initial training in the use of medical cannabis” in partnership with “medical schools that have incorporated medical cannabis education into their curricula.”
The congressman has taken an active role in introducing veteran and cannabis-specific legislation in previous sessions. In 2019, for example, he introduced three medical marijuana bills for veterans.
Separately, the House and Senate committees held joint hearings last week to hear from Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) on how Congress and the federal government can better serve their constituents, and several of the groups spoke about the need to relax restrictions on marijuana.
In previous hearings on veterans and marijuana legislation, VA representatives have pushed back against VSOs, insisting that the department is already conducting research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis. But advocates say the focus of this research too often is on the potential negative consequences of marijuana use.
Some advocates had hoped the department would support modest reform proposals this session after the sponsor of a key VA research bill, Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA), said he had a conversation with VA Secretary Denis McDonough on the issue of marijuana and veterans.
In December, a VA researcher acknowledged that people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who use marijuana experience fewer symptoms and recover faster than people who don’t use cannabis.
Another VA official said in September that the department was “very closely” following research into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics like MDMA for military veterans with PTSD.
A federal commission tasked with developing recommendations to improve mental health treatment for military veterans determined in a 2020 report that Congress and the executive branch should promote research into the therapeutic potential of marijuana and psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms and MDMA.
Separately, a bipartisan coalition of congressional lawmakers said in a letter to McDonough that the department must urgently institute a policy change to ensure military veterans can access cannabis for therapeutic purposes.
The letter came weeks after McDonough took part in a Veterans Day Q&A where he said VA officials were “reviewing” the possibility of an internal policy change and discussing it with the White House and the Department of Justice. The secretary also spoke of being personally moved by the stories of veterans who have found relief using medical marijuana.
Meanwhile, the Portland branch of the VA is now partnering with a university in Oregon on a new website that aims to provide resources to make healthcare providers “more comfortable” discussing of marijuana treatment with patients.
Read it text of the new marijuana and veterans bill below:
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