Congress Aims to Remove Restrictions for Veterans and Medical Cannabis

CONTACT: Debbie Churgai, [email protected], (202) 618-6973

Congress Aims to Remove Restrictions for Veterans and Medical Cannabis 

Effort supported by Americans for Safe Access, Veterans and Patient Organizations 

WASHINGTON, DC — Yesterday,  the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, legislation that aims to allow doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend medical cannabis to veterans in states and territories with legal medical cannabis programs as well as supporting an increase in research was introduced in both houses with bipartisan support. The bill was introduced in the Senate by U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Dave Joyce (R-Ohio).

In 2017, the VA initially updated their policy, allowing VA doctors to have discussions with veterans about medical cannabis, and stating that veterans could not be denied VHA services solely due to participating in state-approved medical cannabis programs. However, VHA officials were still prohibited from recommending or recommending cannabis.

If passed, this new bill would create a temporary, five-year safe harbor protection for veterans who use medical cannabis, while also allowing the VA to move forward with research on how medical cannabis could help veterans better manage chronic pain and reduce opioid abuse. In 2017, a survey conducted by the American Legion revealed that Veterans are twice as likely as the general population to succumb to accidental opioid overdose.

“In 41 states and territories and Washington, D.C., doctors and their patients can use medical marijuana to manage pain or treat a wide-range of diseases and disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder – unless those doctors work for the VA and their patients are veterans. Our bill will protect veteran patients in these jurisdictions, give VA doctors the option to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, and shed light on how medical marijuana can help address the nation’s opioid epidemic,” said Senator Schatz.

“It is time that the brave service members who have put their lives on the line for our country have access to a safer alternative to opioids to help them treat a variety of ailments such as chronic pain, sleep disorders, and PTSD” said Debbie Churgai, executive director of Americans for Safe Access. “We hope that this bill advances allowing the VA to take steps that will improve the lives of Veterans”

The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act is supported by Americans for Safe Access and the following organizations: Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), AMVETS, VoteVets, Minority Veterans of America, Veterans Cannabis Coalition, Veterans Cannabis Project, NORML, National Cannabis Roundtable, U.S. Pain Foundation, Drug Policy Alliance, Veteran’s Initiative 22, National Cannabis Industry Association, Council for Federal Cannabis Regulation, and Hawaiʻi Cannabis Industry Association.