A Senate-backed provision in a Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill failed to make the cut when the House passed the final version of the legislation on Wednesday.
Stripped from the bill was language that would have allowed VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana as a treatment in states where it is legal.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon who offered similar legislation in the House in February only to see it stalled in committee, said Thursday he is disappointed by his chamber's action.
Had the Senate version of the bill passed, it would have allowed VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana in states where it is legal. It also would have barred the department from preventing veterans in its care from participating in state-approved medical marijuana programs, or to deny any services to a veteran enrolled in such a program.
The VA said it had no comment on the action. While the department concedes some veterans use medical marijuana to relieve post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, it 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 Bonn-Miller and Glenna Rousseau on the VA website. "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 study has not yet been completed.
Mike Liszewski, legislative affairs director for Americans for Safe Access, which advocates for safe and legal access to marijuana for therapeutic uses and research, called the House action "a disappointing and harmful outcome for veterans, because the veterans who are most hurt by this are those who have the greatest need for help."
These veterans have conditions and symptoms that are not treated effectively with conventional medication, not to mention the harmful side effects of some medications, he said.
Liszewski said some veterans will have the finances to go to a doctor outside the VA for a prescription for medical marijuana, but others don't have that option.
"Vets with financial hardship who can't afford a non-VA doctor are those who are hurt most," he said.