Law Would Force Feds to Let Veterans Get Medical Marijuana

New legislation would force the federal government to allow veterans to obtain medical marijuana in states, such as California, where it's legal.

The amendment to force the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to make cannabis available to veterans who need it was recently approved by the Senate's Appropriations Committee on a 24-to-7 vote. The department would be prohibited from interfering with a veteran's ability to obtain weed, and from blocking health care providers from giving pot to veterans where it's legal, according to language attached to a military appropriations bill.

"The amendment ensures that veterans have equal access to all of the medical options available in their local community, to include medical marijuana in states where it is legal," according to a statement from the office of co-author Steve Daines, a Montana Republican.

Clearing the VA's blockade of medical marijuana has been attempted before. In 2015, military spending legislation supported by Southern California U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher would have allowed Veterans Affairs–affiliated doctors to write medical marijuana recommendations in states like California. It was rejected in the House.

And, last year, language very similar to the latest amendment made it through the House and Senate but was stripped in a last-minute move by Republican leaders in the House Appropriations Committee.

This time around, there seems to be more hope for the legislation co-authored by Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley.

"It has an excellent chance of passing the Senate, as it did last year," Tom Angell, chairman of the group Marijuana Majority, said via email.

"Unfortunately last year, the conference committee stripped the language when reconciling both chambers' bills, something we will be working extra hard to prevent this year," Angell said. "I think the increase in support in the Senate committee, plus the new state laws coming on board, is an indication we are well-positioned."

Law Would Force Feds to Let Veterans Get Medical MarijuanaEXPAND
File photo by Shane Lopes/L.A. Weekly

But support from key Republicans, including the administration of President Trump, who could veto the bill or exert pressure to strip the language again, is up in the air, Paul Armentano, deputy director of the pro-marijuana organization NORML, said via email. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in particular, has expressed disdain for states' medical marijuana legalization.

"Given the rising level of both public and political support in favor of medical cannabis access, particularly for veterans — coupled with the increasing lobbying efforts from veterans’ groups like the American Legion and AMVETS — I would not only anticipate members of the House and Senate to once again approve this reform legislation but also to do so in greater numbers than last year," Armentano said. "The question that remains, however, is whether high-ranking Republicans or the Trump administration will respect this vote, or will they turn their back on the needs of veterans and the will of the overwhelming majority of voters."

The Department of Veterans Affairs itself has long opposed medical cannabis for those who have fought for our country. It calls medical pot use among vets "a growing concern" and casts doubt on the science supporting weed's use for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). "There is no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD," according to a VA fact sheet.

Huntington Beach's Rohrabacher said last year, "Americans have found relief in regulated medical marijuana. These include stroke victims, epileptics, veterans afflicted with post-traumatic stress and those suffering from the effects of chemotherapy, among many other health-related issues."

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