Soon, staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs could be able to finally authorize veterans to use medical marijuana. The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday adopted an amendment to allow military veterans, for the first time ever, to obtain medical marijuana recommendations through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The bipartisan vote was 24 to 7. A similar measure was adopted by the panel last year by a vote of 20 to 10 and by the full House with a margin of 233 to 189, but a conference committee later stripped the provisions from the final bill funding the V.A. Tom Angell, founder and chairman of the pro-cannabis group Marijuana Majority, said,
The growing level of support for marijuana law reform in Congress is extremely encouraging, especially in light of concerning comments and opposition from the attorney general.
This is just the first of what will likely be a series of cannabis votes on Capitol Hill this year, and we expect to continue seeing strong bipartisan margins in support of scaling back federal prohibition.
That’s because a growing number of senators and House members represent constituents who have voted at the ballot box to enact new marijuana laws that stand in stark contrast to outdated federal laws. The war on marijuana is ending, and today’s vote is clear indication of that.
The new Veterans amendment is sponsored by Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). When introducing the amendment, Senator Merkley said,
We often talk about how our soldiers stand up for us, and we need to stand up for them.
The amendment allows military veterans to participate in state medical cannabis programs without fear of losing their military benefits or services and enables Department of Veterans Affairs health care providers to recommend medical cannabis in compliance with state medical cannabis laws.
The amendment was passed in the Senate last year with a vote of 20-10, and passed in the House as well, but removed during a special committee meeting before the final appropriations bill was approved.
Three Republican senators who previously voted “no” on the measure, Collins (R-ME), Moran (R-KS), and Hoeven (R-ND) changed their vote to “yes”, indicating a shift in attitudes towards medical cannabis. There are now 46 states with medical cannabis laws or CBD-only laws. Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access says,
It is time for Congress to pass permanent legislation, such as the CARERS Act that provides protections for all of the over 2 million medical cannabis patients in this country.
I am happy to know that a majority of this committee is supportive of protecting the rights of Veterans like me. Veterans suffer from a high rate of conditions that can be mitigated with medical cannabis such as PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and chronic pain.
Michael Krawitz of Veterans for Medical Cannabis says,
The Veteran community should be able to participate in state medical cannabis programs without fear of losing their VA benefits or services.
The full text of the amendment and audio of the committee debate are online here.