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House Passes Bill to Let VA Docs Talk to Vets About Medical Marijuana

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

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a measure to let doctors at the Veterans Affairs Department talk to patients about using medical marijuana.

House lawmakers passed the legislation as part of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill by a vote of 295-129. The Senate was expected to approve a similar provision later in the day.

If signed into law by President Barack Obama, veterans in states where medical or recreational marijuana are legal will be able to receive feedback from doctors at the Department of Veteran Affairs on how the drug may be used as part of their treatment for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

VA doctors are currently prohibited from filling out forms required for a veteran to seek the drug, even in places where purchasing it is legal. The new measure blocks the VA from spending any funds to enforce that rule -- effectively lifting the restriction and clearing the way for veterans to receive help.

"One of the greatest tragedies of our time is our failure to adequately deal with the needs of our veterans returning home with wounds both visible and unseen," Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat who sponsored the measure, said in a statement. "Medical marijuana can be a safer, more effective alternative."

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.

The language was included in a larger bill that includes $73.5 billion in funding for the VA, a 3-percent increase in funding over 2016. Similar measures have been cut from the bill in the past, including during the same legislative process last year.

Medical marijuana is currently legal in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

-- Bryant Jordan contributed to this report.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @amybushatz.

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