Two House lawmakers, Representative Earl Blumenauer and Representative Brian Mast, have reintroduced the Veterans Equal Access Act, a bipartisan legislation aimed at providing military veterans with access to medical marijuana. The bill would allow doctors at the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare facilities to issue recommendations for state-legal medical cannabis. The VA does not currently permit doctors to complete the necessary paperwork for veterans to use medical marijuana in states where it is legal.
According to Mast, who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan, he woke up on 20 different narcotics of various kinds including Dilaudid drip, oral morphines, and opioids such as oxycodones and an epidural. He also had anti-inflammatories, heavy sleep sedatives, and antidepressants. This highlights the need for alternative treatments like medical marijuana that are safer and less addictive.
The Veterans Equal Access Act has been introduced several times over recent years with bipartisan support and has gained approval at the committee level. However, backers of the bill have been unable to get it passed into law.
Blumenauer argues that the VA’s reluctance to give access to medical marijuana led to handing out opioids like Tic Tacs which contributed to the loss of almost two dozen veterans per day due to suicide. He stated that while he has had conversations with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs regarding this matter, the legislation is long overdue.
Veterans groups including AMVETS and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) are supporting the bill. Brittany Dymond, an associate director with VFW, says that some veterans across the country are hesitant to use VA health care because they are concerned about having to discuss cannabis products they are legally putting in their bodies with VA doctors.
The Veterans Equal Access Act is also supported by cannabis policy reform groups such as NORML and Drug Policy Alliance as well as representatives of regulated cannabis industry such as Saphira Galoob who is executive director of the National Cannabis Roundtable. Galoob believes that the bill will open up new treatment options to veterans in states where medical marijuana is legal.
In summary, the Veterans Equal Access Act aims to provide military veterans with access to medical marijuana by permitting doctors at VA healthcare facilities to issue recommendations for state-legal medical cannabis. Despite bipartisan support and approval at the committee level, backers of the bill have been unable to get it passed into law. However, the bill has undergone a reintroduction process by two House lawmakers, who argue that it is long overdue given the current situation whereby veterans are forced to use opioids as there are no alternatives available.