Providing veterans with access to medical marijuana seems to have become more of a priority in recent years – and the Senate has just introduced what may be the most straightforward bill to solve this issue on a federal level. The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act was introduced this week, sponsored by Senators Bill Nelson and Brian Schatz, and it would make it federally legal for Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to recommend medical marijuana in states where it is legal.
“The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would provide crucial medical and civil protections for the men and women who put their lives on the line to serve this country,” said Justin Strekal, political director for NORML. “It is unconscionable that these brave individuals who protect our nation’s freedoms would be treated as criminals when they return home just for treating their medical ailments with a safe and effective option.”
If passed, this bill would not only make it legal for VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana, but it would also require the VA to conduct studies on “the effects of medical marijuana on veterans in pain” and the potential link between medical marijuana access and a reduction in opioid use among veterans. The bill allocates $15 million specifically to ensure this research is conducted.
“Marijuana and its compounds show promise for treating a wide-range of diseases and disorders, including pain management,” the legislation’s findings section reads. “Medical marijuana in States where it is legal may serve as a less harmful alternative to opioids in treating veterans.”
Veterans are overwhelmingly affected by conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain due to arthritis and/or injury. With few options beyond therapy available to treat PTSD and little to provide relief from pain – other than dangerous prescription opioids – medical marijuana is the logical answer. But medical cannabis is also something that veterans currently have no legal access to.
“Federal law prohibits VA doctors from prescribing or recommending medical marijuana to veterans,” Nelson said in a press release. “This legislation will allow veterans in Florida and elsewhere the same access to legitimately prescribed medication, just as any other patient in those 31 states would have.”
In many cases, veterans have turned away from the VA to private physicians where they pay out-of-pocket simply so they can access a medicine that works for them. The passage of this bill would not only right that wrong, but it would also provide needed research into the efficacy of medical marijuana for pain and it’s potential in fighting the opioid epidemic.