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In a landslide vote, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations voted to the add the Veterans Equal Access Amendment (VEAA) to the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilConVA) Appropriations bill, which sets the budget for the Veterans Administration (VA). The VEAA would end the current gag order preventing VA physicians from recommending or even discussing medical cannabis to veterans in states where medical cannabis programs exist. The bi-partisan amendment was introduced by Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and succeeded by a vote margin of 18-12.
The victorious vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee is nothing short of historic for medical marijuana patients. Although states have been implementing their own medical marijuana programs since 1996, the Senate has never officially weighed in on the subject. Now the Senate Appropriation Committee has done so by affirming that the gag order on V.A. physicians should be lifted.
An amendment containing similar provisions to today’s VEAA amendment received 210 votes in the House Representatives in April, failing by only 3 votes. VEAA’s inclusion in the MilConVA budget creates a path for it to be included in the final version that will be submitted to President Obama. Currently V.H.A. Directive 2011-004, explicitly forbids VA physicians from filling out recommendation forms for state medical marijuana programs or even discuss medical marijuana benefits with the veterans in their care. Under current policy veterans who are dependent on the V.A. for their health care are denied equal access to state medical marijuana programs or even an honest conversation with their doctor. The VEAA would forbid the VA from using any funds to punish physicians who write recommendations or discuss benefits of medical marijuana therapy with their patients.
We at ASA are thrilled that Senator Daines and a majority of his committee colleagues stood up for the rights of V.A. doctors and the well being of our combat veterans who put their lives on the line for this country. Veterans disproportionately suffer from a number of conditions that can be effectively treated with medical marijuana, such as chronic pain, PTSD, phantom limb syndrome, traumatic brain injury, and cancer from battlefield exposure to carcinogens, just to name a few.
The CARERS Act contains provisions that would end the VA gag order permanently, unlike the VEAA amendment that would only apply to Fiscal Year 2016. The CARERS Act is co-sponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
“Today the Senate Appropriations Committee has just restored the rights of Veteran to have an honest dialogue with his/her physician about the benefits and risks of medical cannabis," said Scott Murphy President of Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care. “Veterans throughout America will benefit because of this vote.”
ASA Analysis of Veterans Equal Access House Amendment: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/veterans_equal_access_house_amendment
ASA CARERS Act Petition: