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Senate Backs Letting VA Doctors Recommend Medical Marijuana to Vets

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

Legislation passed Tuesday by the Senate includes a provision that would allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients in states where it is legal.

Some veterans groups have pressed Congress for years to allow the drug for patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The so-called Veterans Equal Access Amendment would do so and was sponsored by Sens. Steve Daines, R-Montana, and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon.

In a statement, Daines noted that the provision "does not change current laws preventing the possession or dispensing of marijuana on VA property, but simply allows veterans to discuss all options that are legally available in their state with their VA doctor."

Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, welcomed the move.

"Veterans in medical marijuana states should be treated the same as any other resident, and should be able to discuss marijuana with their doctor," he said. "It makes no sense that a veteran can’t use medical marijuana if it helps them and it is legal in their state."

The provision was inserted into the Military and Veterans Construction bill, which the upper chamber unanimously passed. Similar language was included in legislation introduced in the House of Representatives in February by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, but it has stalled in committee.

The VA concedes that some veterans use medical marijuana to relieve PTSD symptoms but questions its effectiveness and suggests the practice might actually be harmful.

"Controlled studies have not been conducted to evaluate the safety or effectiveness of medical marijuana for PTSD," states a report by Marcel O. Bonn-Miller, Ph.D. and Glenna S. Rousseau, Ph.D. "Thus, there is no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD. In fact, research suggests that marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD."

The federal government last year approved a study on medical marijuana to be conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a California-based nonprofit research center. But the testing has been delayed over the supply of approved marijuana and a change in testing sites, MAPS spokesman Brad Burge told Military.com in April.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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