Congress to Vote on “Veterans Equal Access Amendment” Tonight Vote Could Lift Ban on VHA Doctors Recommending Medical Marijuana

April 30, 2014 | William Dolphin

Washington, D.C. -- Veterans will be able to get recommendations to use medical cannabis from Veterans Health Administration (VHA) physicians if an amendment expected to be offered this evening passes. The VHA currently prohibits its medical providers from issuing the written recommendations that are required to participate in state medical cannabis programs and receive legal protections.

The amendment to the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act to be offered by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) would prevent any federal funds from being used by the VA to enforce this policy, which would effectively eliminate it.

“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. Blumenauer. “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. While there is no single approach to aiding our veterans, we clearly should not allow outdated drug policies to serve as a roadblock on the path to recovery.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.”

The amendment is expected on the floor near the end of consideration of the bill this evening.

“The amendment should lift the barriers that prevent VA physicians from recommending medical cannabis to our combat veterans who have returned home with wounds from serving their country,” said Mike Liszewski, Government Affairs Director at Americans for Safe Access, the country's leading medical cannabis advocacy organization. “In addition, the vote will serve as 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.“

The right of physicians and other medical providers to recommend medical cannabis as a treatment to patients was upheld in a class-action lawsuit brought in 2000 by Dr. Marcus Conant and others after Clinton Administration officials threatened sanctions on doctors who discussed it. The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling that affirmed the First Amendment right of patients to receive information from their health care providers.

“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” said Michael Krawitz, Executive Director of  Veterans For Medical Cannabis Access.  “Thank you, Congressman Blumenauer, for introducing an amendment designed to remove this prohibition and thereby protect the doctor patient relationship and establish the free speech of Veterans Affairs doctors."

Medical cannabis is routinely recommended for many conditions that disproportionately affect veterans, including chronic pain, post-traumatic stress,  and neurological disorders. 

"I greatly appreciate Congressman Blumenauer being a champion not only for physicians' rights but also veterans' rights. 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,” said T.J. Thompson, a US Navy Veteran and Virginia ASA Chapter Chair. “Congressman Blumenauer's proposed amendment will restore the freedom of speech of VA physicians to recommend medical marijuana to veteran patients in accordance with state law."

More Information:
Bill Number: HR 4486 - Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015
https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr4486

Amendment Text:
None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to implement Veterans Health Administration directive 2011-004 regarding ‘‘Access to clinical programs for veterans participating in State-approved marijuana programs’’. 

Purpose and Effects:
Goal: to allow VA physicians to recommend medical marijuana to veteran--patients in accordance with state laws that authorize the medical use of marijuana. The current VA policy medical marijuana, VHA Directive 2011-004, specifically prohibits VA physicians from completing forms brought by their patients seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a veteran’s participation in a state-authorized marijuana program.

  • Would provide that VA physicians would no longer be denied the ability to offer a recommendation they think may meet the need of their patient.
  • Would provide that Veterans would no longer be forced outside of the VA system – at their own expense – to seek a simple recommendation for treatment for a debilitating condition that is granted to them by state law.

States that currently allow PTSD as a condition (9 total): 
California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon

States that allow severe/chronic pain (18 total): 
Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington

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