First Congressional Medical Marijuana Legislation of the Year Focuses on Access for U.S. Veterans "Veterans Equal Access Act" would allow VA physicians to recommend medical marijuana without federal censure

February 03, 2015 | Kris Hermes

Washington, DC -- U.S. House Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and eight bipartisan Congressional cosponsors introduced the "Veterans Equal Access Act" today, marking a concerted federal effort to allow our country's veterans to become medical marijuana patients in states where it's legal. The bill, which is modeled after similar legislation introduced in November, would simply allow Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients, a right enjoyed by physicians outside of the VA system.

"Post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury can be more damaging and harmful than injuries that are visible from the outside,” said Rep. Blumenauer in a prepared statement. "And they can have a devastating effect on a veteran's family. We should be allowing these wounded veterans access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana -- not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows. It's shameful."

The Veterans Equal Access Act is cosponsored by a balanced mix of eight members on each side of the aisle, including Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Walter Jones (R-NC), Justin Amash (R-MI), Tom Reed (R-NY), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Dina Titus (D-NV), Sam Farr (D-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO).

In 2011, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) issued a directive which said, "VHA policy does not administratively prohibit Veterans who participate in State marijuana programs from also participating in VHA substance abuse programs, pain control programs, or other clinical programs where the use of marijuana may be considered inconsistent with treatment goals." However, in addition to giving wide discretion to continue discrimination against veterans, the policy also forbids VA physicians from issuing medical marijuana recommendations to their patients.

For many veterans, their VA physician is their primary care physician and they have no need to go outside of the VA system for health care. In fact, since more than a million U.S. veterans are at risk of homelessness due to poverty, they don't have the option to pay for private physicians in order to meet their health care needs. As a result, veterans are either denied critical pain medication and other pharmaceuticals because of their medical marijuana use, or they are forced by their VA physicians to go without an important and adjunct therapy.

"Millions of Americans suffer from PTSD and chronic pain, but our veterans are even more adversely affected by these conditions, and yet we fail to treat them with the same level of respect," said Mike Liszewski, Government Affairs Director with Americans for Safe Access, the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group. "Veterans must be given the same rights and health care options that we give other Americans, especially where medical marijuana is concerned."

"Veterans For Medical Cannabis Access applauds Congressman Blumenauer for standing up for the doctor-patient relationship by re-introducing the Veteran's Equal Access Amendment," said Veterans for Medical Cannabis director Michael Krawitz. "In every state of our union, disabled United States military Veterans stand to gain from this legislation because every veteran deserves the best medical care. This requires an open discussion of all treatments available. We trust our doctors to prescribe morphine; we should also trust them to appropriately recommend cannabis."

Researchers were granted permission last year to study the effects of medical marijuana on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, the study has been plagued with setbacks, including the University of Mississippi, the sole supplier of research-grade cannabis in the U.S., saying it was unable to provide the requested strains, as well as the untimely and questionable firing of lead researcher Dr. Sue Sisley from the University of Arizona.

In March of last year, the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs published a study that found participants who used inhaled marijuana reported an average of 75 percent reduction in PTSD symptoms.

Further information:
Veterans Equal Access Act:

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