Medical Cannabis for Veterans? We May be Closer Than You Think

Under current law, Department of Veterans Affairs physicians are not permitted to recommend the use of medical cannabis to veterans, even within the 31 states that have passed regulations allowing its use. However, two senators have just filed legislation seeking to change this stance. On September 5, 2018, Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) filed legislation that would legalize medical cannabis use for military veterans and allow physicians employed by the federal government assist the veterans in obtaining the drug. The bill, titled “Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act”, would allow Department of Veterans Affairs physicians to issue medical cannabis recommendations in accordance with the laws of a growing number of states.

The bill also requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct studies within two years on “the effects of medical marijuana on veterans in pain” and “the relationship between treatment programs involving medical marijuana that are approved by States, the access of veterans to such programs, and a reduction in opioid abuse among veterans.”

The bill states that “notwithstanding the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.), the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (21 U.S.C. 951 et seq.), or any other Federal law, it shall not be unlawful for:

  • A veteran to use, possess, or transport medical marijuana in accordance with the laws of the State in which the use, possession, or transport occurs;
  • A physician to discuss with a veteran the use of medical marijuana as a treatment if the physician is in a State that authorizes the use, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, delivery, and transport of medical marijuana; or
  • A physician to recommend, complete forms for, or register veterans for participation in a treatment program involving medical marijuana that is approved by the applicable State.

The bill noted that “Marijuana and its compounds show promise for treating a wide-range of diseases and disorders, including pain management,” while also noting how the use of medical cannabis may be a better alternative to treating veterans than opioids. It referenced the lower opioid overdose rate in states which have enacted medical cannabis laws in support of this statement.

Introduction of this bill is a major step forward for federal approval of medical cannabis. The Senate previously approved amendments to federal law that allowed veterans and Veterans Affairs doctors to obtain and recommend medical cannabis use. However, the amendments were never adopted into law. Passage of this bill would be a huge step forward and further evidence of the country’s movement toward the de-scheduling of and full legalization of medical cannabis at the federal level.

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