Lawmakers Again Rally for VA Medical Marijuana in Budget Bills

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 -- Lawmakers will take another shot this week at allowing doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana, reigniting a smoldering debate over veteran access to the drug.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, said he will propose the change as part of the department's annual budget bill during a vote on the House floor expected as early as Wednesday.

The Senate was also set to vote on its version of the department's annual budget bill, which includes the same proposal by Sens. Steve Daines, R-Montana, and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon.

The proposals to give veterans access to medical marijuana through the VA in states where it is legal put Congress on the verge of making a major policy shift for the second year in a row.

"We received more support to fix this situation than ever before last year. I hope we can build on that support and that my colleagues will show compassion and do what's right for our veterans," Blumenauer said in a released statement.

His proposal last year was defeated in a 213-210 House vote. House lawmakers were scheduled to take a new vote on adding it to the VA appropriations bill late Wednesday or Thursday.

The Senate was debating Tuesday and preparing for a final vote on the appropriations bill including the marijuana provision. It approved the measure last year but the reform was ultimately stripped from the bill during congressional budget negotiations.

House passage this week could make it more likely that the proposal giving veterans access to medical marijuana will survive and be passed by Congress in a final budget. However, another defeat in the House would not bode well for its chances of being included and signed into law later this year by President Barack Obama.

The Obama administration asked prosecutors not to pursue medical marijuana sellers and the Department of Justice announced in 2013 that it would not challenge states that have decriminalized or legalized pot.

Medical marijuana has been approved by 23 states and the District of Columbia for treatment of glaucoma, cancer, HIV and other afflictions.

The VA refuses to allow its doctors to prescribe pot in those states and D.C., and instead only provides abuse treatment to veterans due to federal law that still lists it as an illicit drug.

Veterans are advocating for access to marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, which might affect about 20 percent of the 1.8 million service members deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the National Center for PTSD.

Show Full Article