Will vets convince Biden administration cannabis is better than opioids?

By Jonathan D. Salant for NJ Cannabis Insider

Efforts by cannabis advocates are underway in Washington to try to convince the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to allow physicians at VA hospitals to recommend cannabis in states where the drug is legal.

A number of veterans have said that THC is a preferred alternative to opioids to treat pain, or to help them cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, better known as PTSD.

“Countless veterans suffer from severe post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and other major issues resulting from their service to our country,” said Debbie Churgai, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, the advocacy group leading the effort.

“These heroes should not be faced with another battle at home when trying to obtain medical cannabis, a medicine that is safer and less addictive than the more commonly prescribed opioids for their symptom relief.”

But as long as cannabis remains illegal on the federal level, veterans are out of luck. VA doctors cannot prescribe cannabis nor fill out the forms allowing patients to obtain state-legal medical marijuana.

“Federal employees must comply with federal law, despite state law legalizing marijuana,” the agency said in a statement.

Even if veterans are using marijuana, however, they are not blocked from using VA services and doctor can discuss cannabis use with their patients as part of providing health care, the agency said.

Legislation has been introduced to change the law by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla. A similar bill last year got out of the House Veterans Affairs Committee but never reached the floor for a vote.

“As a veteran, I’m committed to ensuring that veterans receive the care they deserve, and I know that sometimes that care can include medical marijuana,” Steube said when he first introduced the bill in 2019. “Receiving the appropriate treatment to address your health care needs — using products that are legal in the state in which you live — should not preclude you from your Department of Veterans Affairs benefits.”

The committee last year also passed legislation requiring the VA to study the medical benefits of cannabis, allow VA physicians to discuss the benefits of cannabis in states where the drug is legal, and to fill out forms making veterans eligible for medical marijuana.