Despite a recent Quinnipiac University poll finding overwhelming support of medical marijuana for veterans by Americans (87%) and military families (82% of households with an active service member or veteran), physicians at Veterans’ Affairs (VA) hospitals have been restricted from not only prescribing medical marijuana – they’ve been prohibited from even speaking about it.
In the middle of May of this year, it seemed like these absurd restrictions would be lifted. A house bill proposed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and its sister bill in the Senate proposed by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., would allow veterans to receive prescriptions and counseling for medical marijuana as a potential treatment option gained the required votes in both the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate. It was not a blanket fix for veterans seeking medical marijuana, and it still restricted the VA from being a provider of medical marijuana. The legislation would have only affected veterans and VA employees in states with existing medical marijuana programs, and it would not have allow veterans to possess marijuana at VA facilities or VA facilities to dispense medical marijuana. Cue the celebration, right?
Wrong. About one month later, in a closed-door meeting concerning the VA budget, the bill was effectively neutered. The budget was not released for review by congressmen until after 3am the day of the vote. If it seems like an underhanded way for medical marijuana opponents to block the will of the people, you aren’t alone. Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., released a joint statement which included the following quote: “To add insult to injury, the legislation was released in the middle of the night, not even giving members of the House an opportunity to review the language before voting on it.”
The bill had broad bipartisan support, and removing it from the VA budget is saddening not only because it is a clear example of undemocratic political maneuvering, but it only serves to delay a treatment option that would benefit veteran population more than the average American. “The death rate from opioids among VA health care is nearly double the national average,” Blumenauer said in debate over his amendment. “From what I hear from veterans is that medical marijuana has helped them deal with pain and PTSD, particularly as an alternative to opioids.”