On Wednesday evening almost 200 members of U.S. Congress, including 22 Republicans, voted in favor of an amendment to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2014, that would have allowed physicians employed by the Veterans Health Administration to recommend the use of medical marijuana to those veterans who live in states that currently have legalized the drug.
Currently medical providers at the federal agency are forbidden from recommending a patient try medical marijuana even if they are suffering from conditions helped by the drug such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder, which means veterans often have to find another medical provider if they wanted a medical marijuana recommendation or simply have to undergo treatment without trying this possibly life-saving drug.
“Veterans should not be forced outside of the VA system to seek a simple recommendation for treatment if they are eligible to use medical marijuana under their state’s law,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, (D-Oregon), one of the amendment’s sponsors. “Similarly, VA doctors should be able to make recommendations to fit the needs of their patients, not handcuffed by bureaucracy.
“Over 20 percent of the 2.3 million American veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTS and depression,” the Congressman explained. “While there is no single approach to aiding our veterans, we clearly should not allow outdated drug policies to serve as a roadblock on the path to recovery. This should not be controversial.”
Unfortunately, the amendment ultimately failed in a vote of 195 to 222, meaning federal funds will continue to be used to ensure that VA physicians are not recommending patients use the substance.
“Our troops have sacrificed a lot for our country, and in return they deserve the best medical care possible,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, in regards to the amendment’s failure. “Veterans should not have to abandon the VA system and the doctors who know them best in order to benefit from their states’ medical marijuana programs.
“Medical treatment decisions should be made by patients and physicians, not paper-pushers and politicians. Government bureaucrats should not be intervening and telling doctors what treatment options they can and cannot recommend. There is a mountain of evidence demonstrating medical marijuana’s effectiveness in the treatment of a variety of debilitating conditions. Oftentimes, medical marijuana is a safer and more effective option than traditionally prescribed drugs.”
Mike Liszewski, government affairs director at Americans for Safe Access, the country’s leading medical cannabis advocacy organization, agreed the amendment was the best thing for veterans health, and called the vote a “litmus test on whether members of Congress think a veteran’s medical use of marijuana is a decision best left to doctors or bureaucrats.”
He explained that VA physicians should have the ability to recommend “medical cannabis to our combat veterans who have returned home with wounds from serving their country,” and pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has historically agreed that health care providers should be protected under the First Amendment when it comes to having a conversation with their patients.
But as Michael Krawitz, executive director of Veterans For Medical Cannabis Access, pointed out, “In 2010, we learned that VA doctors do not enjoy free speech and can therefore be prohibited from engaging in the free speech activity of recommending cannabis under state laws.”
While the political battle over medical marijuana continues throughout the U.S. on both a state and federal level, those who could be helped by the use of medical marijuana, such as veterans, appear to be the only ones getting hurt in this battle that appears to be more about power than the health and well-being of Americans.
Even if the amendment would have passed, not all veterans would have been given access to a medicine they need, as currently only nine of the more than 20 states that have legalized medical marijuana, plus Washington, D.C., recognize PTSD as a medical condition that can be helped by the substance. Eighteen states allow for use of the drug to help with severe and chronic pain.
“I greatly appreciate Congressman Blumenauer being a champion not only for physicians’ rights but also veterans’ rights,” said T.J. Thompson, a U.S. Navy Veteran and Virginia ASA Chapter Chair in a press release. “He has revived my beliefs in a system which I, along with many other veterans, feel has at times failed us, after we volunteered our lives to protect that same system.”