Vets Deserve Better When it Comes to Medical Marijuana

This Memorial Day, we give thanks to all of the men and women who have served our country’s military at home and abroad. And on this Memorial Day, it should go without saying that military veterans deserve better choices and treatment when it comes to medical cannabis.

No reason why we should be treating our veterans worse than everyone else when it comes to cannabis.
No reason why we should be treating our veterans worse than everyone else when it comes to cannabis.

Controlled by the federal government, the military and the Veterans Health Administration (VA) have so demonized and stigmatized the use of medical cannabis that most VA physicians will not even discuss medical marijuana as an option for suffering Vets, not even for those Vets in states where MMJ is legal under state law. This is not only unfair and outdated, it is a moral outrage given the immense sacrifices Vets have made in defending our country.

There is some hope though. On May 21st, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed the bipartisan Veterans Equal Access Amendment (by an 18-12 vote), legally authorizing VA physicians to recommend medical marijuana to people who served in the military. Importantly, it follows the introduction of the Veterans Equal Access Act in the House of Representatives earlier this year, which also gives VA doctors the ability to recommend marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

The Amendment allows VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. This vote is a huge step forward not only for Vets, but also for the momentum of marijuana acceptance and legalization. This is the first time the U.S. Senate has ever moved marijuana law reform legislation forward.

The VA has been particularly hostile towards medical marijuana. The Drug Policy Alliance reports that,

There are numerous federal healthcare programs besides the VA such as Medicaid, Medicare, and CHIP – but only the VA prohibits physicians from discussing and recommending medical marijuana to their patients. A Medicare patient may freely discuss medical marijuana use with her doctor, while a returning veteran is denied the same right.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recognized that physicians have a constitutionally protected First Amendment right to discuss marijuana as a treatment option with their patients and to make oral or written recommendations to them for marijuana. Consequently, the VA’s beef with medical cannabis appears to be purely political and we are hoping the Veterans Equal Access Amendment will end the VA’s discriminatory cannabis policies.

With so many veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression, allowing medical cannabis recommendations would certainly improve current health care options for Vets, especially since cannabis has proven so effective with such conditions. The Amendment also allows Vets to better control their own health care; it treats Veterans as the adults that they are by validating their ability to educate themselves about cannabis, along with their VA physicians.

Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, Michael Collins, said in a press release that, “[v]eterans in medical marijuana states should be treated the same as any other resident, and should be able to discuss marijuana with their doctor and use it if it’s medically necessary . . . [t]hey have served this country valiantly, so the least we can do is allow them to have full and open discussions with their doctors.”

We wholeheartedly agree.

It is easy every year to talk about how we recognize the sacrifices made by our valiant military members and veterans but how about this year we actually show them that recognition by treating them equally when it comes to medical cannabis? We can do that by requiring politicians who seek our support to provide more than just lip service to our veterans; we need to start holding our politicians accountable for their votes on cannabis and, in particular, on how they treat our veterans on this important issue.

Do you agree?