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VA Could Prescribe
Pot to Veterans Under New Bill
this photo taken Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, marijuana is measured in 3.5-gram
amounts and placed in cans for packaging at the Pioneer Production and
Processing marijuana growing facility in Arlington, Wash. Elaine Thompson/AP
Stars and Stripes | Mar
11, 2015 | by Travis J. Tritten
WASHINGTON -- VA doctors
could refer veterans
to state medical marijuana programs under a landmark
reform bill floated in the Senate on Tuesday.
The bill would end the
federal prohibition against pot as a medical treatment, clearing away any
ambiguity for patients in states that have approved its use. It mirrors a House
bill filed last month and specifically allows physicians and health care
providers at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities across the country to
Medical marijuana has
been approved by 23 states and the District of Columbia for treatment of a
variety of afflictions, including glaucoma, cancer and HIV. But the VA is a
federal agency that follows federal law, under which pot is still illegal, and
patients cannot get access through its facilities.
The reforms are overdue
and would allow the prescription, use and sale without fear of prosecution,
according to the bills’ sponsors, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Rand Paul,
R-Ky.; and Cory Booker, D-N.J.
The House bill allowing
the VA to prescribe medical pot is sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.,
and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.
The federal government
has followed the lead of states and eased enforcement of marijuana laws in
In 2010, the Obama
administration asked prosecutors not to go after medical marijuana sellers and
the Department of Justice announced in 2013 that it would not challenge states
that have decriminalized or legalized pot, according to the National Conference
of State Legislatures.
Veterans have been
advocating to state governments and Congress for access to medical marijuana to
treat post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that might affect about 20
percent of the 1.8 million servicemembers deployed to the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, according to the National Center for PTSD
21, 2014, 03:46 pm
Bipartisan bill would expand veterans'
access to medical marijuana.
Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.)
and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) introduced legislation to allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to make recommendations on patients'
use of medical marijuana. The VA currently prevents its doctors from giving patients consultations about
medical marijuana use.
thinks that veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder could
benefit from using medical marijuana. Moreover, the Oregon Democrat argued that
allowing veterans to obtain medical marijuana in the open would prevent them
from buying the drug illegally.
"We should be allowing these wounded
warriors access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including
medical marijuana, not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the
shadows. It’s shameful," Blumenauer said.
Rohrabacher said the current policy is
"antiquated" and prevents veterans from having access to a wide range
of treatments for their psychological issues.
"Conscience dictates that we not coldly
ignore these desperate men and women, and that we remove government from
its paternalistic stance between patient and doctor," Rohrabacher said. Earlier this year, the House adopted an amendment sponsored by Rohrabacher that would prevent the
Justice Department from interfering with states' implementation of their own
medical marijuana laws.
prompt push for VA oversight in Congress
— A bill aimed at decreasing recent delays in veteran burials by giving
Congress new VA oversight got a push forward from lawmakers Thursday.
version of the bill requiring the VA to report any burial delays longer than 30
days was introduced by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., following a filing earlier
this year in the House, which boosted the odds Congress may act to pass the new
reporting rules before the end of the year.
Reports have sprung up around the country that deceased vets are waiting months to be interred in the Department of
Veterans Affairs’ system of national cemeteries. “This legislation will keep the VA accountable for ensuring
every veteran receives a proper burial in a
timely manner,” Heller said in a joint released statement with Rep. Ed Royce,
R-Calif., the House sponsor. Under the bill, the VA would be required to track and record any
burials not completed within a month as well as the names of the entities that
are responsible for the bodies, including local medical examiners, funeral directors, and county service groups.
the burial delays would be collected in an annual report and given to the House
and Senate veterans’ affairs committees, according to the bill language.
delays are only one of the recent headaches for the VA, which is working on a
massive overhaul following a scandal over patient wait times in his nationwide
veteran health care system.
oversees a system of 131 cemeteries and burial rights for veterans. Over the
past year, there have been media reports of long delays for deceased veterans
at facilities in California and elsewhere.
Royce cited a May report by the Los Angeles Times that 52 unclaimed veteran bodies had accumulated in the Los
Angeles County morgue in his home state.
quality of the healthcare that veterans receive has been in the news lately,
our veterans deserve the same attention when it comes to their burials,” Royce
said in the statement.
legislation is likely to face steep odds.
chambers of Congress left Washington on Thursday and are not scheduled to return
until after Thanksgiving. Next month, lawmakers will only have a couple of
weeks to pass crucial budget and war bills and other issues may get pushed