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VA Could Prescribe Pot to Veterans Under New Bill

In 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
In 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

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 recommend it.

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 recent years.

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.

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