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Senate Passes Veteran Cannabis Measure

medical marijuana veterans usa

In most states across the country, medical cannabis is legalized. Patients who have been diagnosed with one or more qualifying health conditions can get medical cannabis recommendations from a healthcare provider. People living in states with medical marijuana programs can try cannabis as an alternative health option.

That right to use medical cannabis for eligible patients is protected by state law. However, for individuals who work for the federal government, using medical cannabis is prohibited. That is because cannabis remains a Schedule I prohibited drug on the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Active members, former servicemen, and women remain as federal government employees. American military veterans are provided healthcare and services through Veterans Affairs or the VA. While states have been legalizing medical cannabis for almost two decades, military veterans were barred access.

The United States Senate approved a bill that allowed physicians from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to issue medical cannabis certifications. The new legislation removes barriers to accessing medical cannabis for eligible patients through the VA.

Veterans Affairs Changes Stance on Medical Cannabis

veteran cannabis laws

Veterans Affairs issued “VHA Directive 1315” on July 28, 2023. The purpose of the directive was to ensure that: “…all VISN Directors and VA medical facility Directors are aware that VA health care providers may assess Veteran use of marijuana but that they are prohibited from recommending, making referrals to, completing forms or registering Veterans for participation in State-approved marijuana programs.”

However, on August 1, 2023, Veterans Affairs updated its website that explained what VA physicians could and could not do regarding medical cannabis recommendations. The department stated that “As long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as Schedule 1, VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist Veterans to obtain it.”

The statement did reassure veterans that they would not be denied VA benefits for using medical or adult-use cannabis. It also encouraged veterans to disclose medical cannabis use due to potential prescription medication conflicts.

In 2022, more than twenty veterans service organizations (VSOs) sent a letter to congressional leaders that urged the passage of a marijuana and veterans research bill, according to Marijuana Moment. However, the legislation was not passed before the last Congress of 2022.

The House passed version of the MilconVa spending bill, introduced on July 27, 2023, which was heavily criticized for further restricting access to healthcare services for American veterans and reducing funds for military construction.

New Laws That Protect Veterans’ Right to Use Medical Cannabis

va cannabis laws

The legislation that passed the Senate on November 1, 2023 (HR 4366) was a formalized change that indicated the federal government was willing to finally make accommodations for veterans with regard to using medical cannabis.

Doctors providing healthcare services at the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are now permitted to issue medical marijuana recommendations to any veteran who resides in a state where medical use is legalized.

How Can VA Doctors Help?

Section 260 of HR 4366 states that the VA cannot “interfere with the ability of a veteran to participate in a medicinal marijuana program approved by a State; deny any services from the Department to a veteran who is participating in such a program; or limit or interfere with the ability of a health care provider of the Department to make appropriate recommendations, fill out forms, or take steps to comply with such a program.”

Now, VA doctors in states where there are medical cannabis programs can assist patients who ask about becoming certified for medical marijuana. The new laws do not arbitrarily preclude VA doctors from assisting patients who wish to register for state marijuana programs.

Legal Protections for Veterans Who Have a Medical Card

While the federal drug policy regarding cannabis remains unchanged, HR 4366 helps reduce some of the obstacles and concerns that veterans face when exploring legal treatment options. Veterans are not committing a federal offense if they become registered medical marijuana patients, and their health care services provided by VA clinics and hospitals will not be jeopardized.

Medical cannabis patients use cannabis for the relief of a variety of symptoms, including chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and more. The new laws ensure VA doctors can guide and assist veterans living with treatment-resistant conditions who wish to explore the potential benefits of medical cannabis.

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