Democrats have proposed legislation that would let the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recommend marijuana to patients receiving treatment in states that have legalized the plant for medicinal purposes, eliminating obstacles caused by its status as a federally controlled substance.
Introduced by Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, the bill would allow “veterans to use, possess or transport medical marijuana and to discuss the use of medical marijuana with a physician of the Department of Veterans Affairs as authorized by State law,” according to a copy of its language released Wednesday.
“Federal law prohibits VA doctors from prescribing or recommending medical marijuana to veterans,” Mr. Nelson said in a statement. “This legislation will allow veterans in Florida and elsewhere the same access to legitimately prescribed medication, just as any other patient in those 31 states would have.”
While most states in the country have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes or recreational purposes, the plant is considered a Schedule 1 substance under federal law, effectively prohibiting VA physicians from even discussing its potential health benefits with veterans seeking treatment through the government.
In addition to letting VA physicians recommend medical marijuana to veterans, the proposed Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would direct the VA to research its impact and any potentially reduction of opioid abuse among veterans.
Opioids account for about 63 percent of all drug deaths in the U.S., and previous research found that veterans are twice as likely to die from an accident opioid overdose than non-veterans, according to the bill’s sponsors.
Marijuana proponents have argued that its benefits offer a non-lethal alternative to opioids, and states that have legalized the plant for medical purposes have subsequently experienced a drop in annual fatal opioid overdoses by nearly 25 percent, lawmakers said in support of the bill.
“VA has not taken a position on the bill,” VA press secretary Curt Cashour told The Washington Times on Thursday. “Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and until federal law changes, VA is not able to prescribe it.”
Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), issued a statement applauding the proposal.
“The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would provide crucial medical and civil protections for the men and women who put their lives on the line to serve this country,” Mr. Strekal said. “It is unconscionable that these brave individuals who protect our nation’s freedoms would be treated as criminals when they return home just for treating their medical ailments with a safe and effective option.”
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