There’s a new bipartisan push to make it easier for veterans to use cannabis

November 16, 2018

A pair of seemingly ideological opposites on Capitol Hill introduced a trio of bills that would change how the VA communicates medical marijuana to veterans and encourages the agency to team up with colleges that use cannabis in their medical programs.

Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Seth Moulton (D-Mass), a Marine Corps veteran who served four tours in Iraq, introduced a legislative package that clarifies existing VA policies related to marijuana as part of a veteran's treatment, aims to understand how vets use cannabis, and sets up the VA to expand medical marijuana education.

Photo by Kelsey Kremer/The Register-DesMoines

"Our veterans are seeking alternative options to opioids, and we should be supporting their desires not to be addicted to painkillers," said Moulton. "Let's not kid ourselves, people are using marijuana - including our veterans. We have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible. We also have an obligation to make sure our veterans are getting the best healthcare in the world."

Currently, VA doctors aren't permitted to recommend cannabis, but the legislative package would ensure veterans know they're not at risk for losing any benefits if they admit to marijuana use by requiring VA clinics to post the policy in their offices. Under federal law, marijuana is a schedule one drug, meaning it has no medical value and is highly addictive. The plant's current classification, schedule I, puts the drug on the same level as LSD and heroin.

But according to Gaetz, cannabis "has tremendous potential for veterans."

"It can reduce chronic pain, without the harmful side effects of opioids, and some early reports indicate that it may even have potential as a treatment for PTSD," he said.

The legislative package goes even further requiring VA to partner with universities that include "medical cannabis education into their curriculum" to develop long-lasting education programs for VA physicians.

The Congressmen also drafted plans for a nationwide survey to see just how many veterans use marijuana to treat their service-connected ailments. The American Legion conducted such a study last year finding 22 percent of veterans report using cannabis medically.

According to that survey, 83 percent of polled veterans say they want the federal government to legalize medical marijuana.

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