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VA Head David Shulkin Opens Door to Medical Marijuana

by Countable | 6.1.17

Dr. David Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA), held a live press briefing at the White House on May 31 in which he opened the door to the possibility of the VA researching medical marijuana or prescribing it to veterans who’d benefit from it.

Shulkin illuminated current VA policy on medical marijuana, acknowledging that discussion of medical marijuana use is not prohibited by VA practitioners, but that prescribing it is, since marijuana is still illegal under federal law. He also acknowledged there "may be evidence" marijuana has medical uses and urged Congress to engage in that discussion so the VA can optimally care for veterans.

The American Legion published an impassioned plea for the federal government to change the classification of marijuana from being a Schedule I substance, like heroin, that is highly addictive and has no potential medical use. They call for its classification as a Schedule II substance, which keeps it highly regulated but allows it to be assessed for medical uses. They point to the explosion of opioid abuse across the country, and that problems often begin with Schedule II painkillers that the VA frequently prescribes:

"despite considerable evidence to the contrary, the U.S. persists in listing cannabis alongside heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, as a Schedule I substance with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. By comparison, many of the highly addictive medications frequently prescribed to veterans are a direct pathway to the abuse of cocaine derivatives, methamphetamine, methadone, Demerol, oxycodone and, fentanyl that are classified as Schedule II drugs. These widely over-prescribed, powerful, and dangerous substances are currently fueling today’s opioid and heroin epidemics in America.”

They call the continued classification of marijuana as Schedule I, therefore, "disingenuous."

There are federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who agree, and are pushing legislation to reclassify marijuana. Florida Reps. Matt Gaetz (R) and Darren Soto (D) have proposed legislation that would leapfrog over Schedule II and reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III substance, like anabolic steroids. They argue that Schedule III, a classification reserved for substances with "a potential for abuse less than substances in Schedules I or II [where] abuse may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence," would remove barriers for researchers.

Members of Oregon’s congressional delegation, including Democrats Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, took things a step further with a collection of three bills that would drastically liberalize federal marijuana law. Sen. Wyden referred to the bills as a "three-step approach [that] will spur job growth and boost our economy all while ensuring the industry is being held to a fair standard."

All together the bills would remove marijuana from the list of federally banned drugs and allow it to be taxed and regulated like alcohol; repeal federal criminal penalties related to marijuana in states where individuals or businesses are following the applicable state laws; and allow marijuana businesses to claim tax credits.

Shulkin’s willingness to consider changes to federal law around medical marijuana puts him, as well as the lawmakers supporting the preceding bills, in direct opposition with Attorney General Jeff Sessions who has said in recent months:

"marijuana is against federal law, and that applies in states where they may have repealed their own anti-marijuana laws...I’m not in favor of legalization of marijuana. I think it’s a more dangerous drug than a lot of people realize."

President Trump, however, pledged strong support for veterans in his campaign. Now the question is whether or not changes to federal marijuana law, which would allow veterans to have their treatments prescribed and covered by the VA, qualifies as veteran support. Many veterans hope so.

Should Congress reclassify marijuana according to federal law so that it can be available to veterans for medical purposes? Use the Take Action button to tell your reps what you think!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Max Pixel / Creative Commons)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(337)
  • GMarcel63
    06/01/2017
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    Any movement toward the legalization of marijuana use is progress. For seventeen years I used opioids for chronic, severe back pain and pinched nerves. Going back to the doctor every month for a new prescription got tiring and I felt embarrassment. I quit using the pain medication and experienced no withdrawal. Someone said, "You didn't experience withdrawal because you didn't abuse the drug. You needed it for your pain." Long story short I've been using medical marijuana for three months and it is the most effective agent I've tried to relieve my pain. I've had an epidural injection of steroids a month ago and I continue to use the marijuana because it works so well when I experience break-through pain.

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  • Gail
    06/01/2017
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    This is a no brainer, YES! Ignorant Jeff Sessions needs to read the extensive medical research on marijuana. Stupid Republicans only want the Schedule I rating to keep their Big Pharma happy and giving $$$$ to the party. Marijuana has many PROVEN medical applications for our pets as well as humans! But it is cheap to produce and could replace so many man made pharmaceuticals. I would love to see the Republicans legalize marijuana and treat it the same as alcohol, but have ZERO faith in those that are owned by corporate funds!

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  • WeaverWitch
    06/01/2017
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    Please support this. Finally some rational discussion of marijuana as a therapeutic drug. This would be an amazing gift to some of our vets with chronic pain & other issues.

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  • Angela
    06/01/2017
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    I am a veteran and I know that effects of painkillers that the VA hospital prescribes. I know a lot of people that become addicted to these drugs and it is a hard addiction to kick. I am totally in favor of medical marijuana. It is proven to help with chronic pain along with other things. I have had 2 brain surgeries and 5 spinal surgeries. I hate taking pills because there is addiction in my family. Medical marijuana is a lot less addictive and better all around. Please legalize it NOW! We are suffering without it. The doctors are scared to give pain pills so we are often left in pain with no alternative. That's why a lot of veterans turn to street drugs. We fought for America's freedom. We need someone to fight for us now

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  • George
    06/01/2017
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    Whatever it takes! Lawmakers need to put more compassion and empathy into caring for our Veterans than they did in sending them to war! Toddlers with guns have done more harm than marijuana has EVER done!

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  • Lilly.Forest
    06/01/2017
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    There is way too much research and trial proof centered around marijuana it is offensive to NOT legalize it for our soldiers!

    Like (41)
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  • Cathy
    06/01/2017
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    Support medical marijuana!

    Like (29)
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  • Diana
    06/01/2017
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    Yes legalizing marijuana would be a huge step in the right direction, if every state does like what Colorado does with taxing the substance would crest over 125 million dollars in revenue which helps economic growth which seems like good common sense.

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  • Mark
    06/01/2017
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    Long overdue

    Like (25)
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  • John
    06/01/2017
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    Dear Representatives and Senators. I have emailed you my concerns several times about the benefits and even shared studies proving that it can be helpful and not a gateway drug- which would happen to be alcohol. Some of the previous responses from you that it is a gateway drug- sorry but that is the thinking from the 80's and the war on drugs which is an epic failure. Our veterans deserve better and it is also helpful to those who have anxiety, PTSD and other mental issues who aren't veterans. Not only are pain killers causing the opioids epidemic but some of the Meds for mental illness can shorten life spans or have adverse side effects

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  • WaterHopsBarley
    06/01/2017
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    The proof is out there, if you really care about our veterans. If you REALLY care, you would want them to experience the most basic relief from PTSD and other ailments without using opioids and/or other far more dangerous medications. The opioid epidemic is real. Medical marijuana allows our brave vets to sleep soundly through the night, avoiding surely horrific nightmares. Why on earth could anyone look them in the face and tell them we just don't think their problems are worth it? What has happened to compassion? None of us who have never served are allowed to be so audacious as to deny veterans an effective treatment that makes their lives worth living. None of us can claim we support vets while at the same time carelessly ignoring the trauma they face on a daily, sometimes constant basis. Step up and support our veterans. We just had a long weekend because of THEM. Make this happen.

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  • Temple
    06/01/2017
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    A wise decision, keep discussions moving forward!

    Like (17)
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  • Sharon
    06/01/2017
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    Would you guys please legalize this already! Or are some of you folks making too much undercover money by keeping it illegal? Just because some of us don't need it, study should be funded to determine the benefits! If it can help our Vets, let's get on with it already!

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  • Elizabeth
    06/01/2017
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    Support the legalization of medical marijuana. It's time to reassess our ideas about drugs and the law. The "war on drugs" had turned into a huge racist scam. Sometimes these drugs are useful. We need to be smarter about this.

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  • Ingrid
    06/01/2017
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    It's about time Veterans have legal access to medical marijuana

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  • Pat
    06/01/2017
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    As they absolutely should. Hopefully this will help drop that suicide rate.

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  • Ochoninja
    06/01/2017
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    This would be a good move. There is proof of the therapeutic use of cannabis and hemp products. The VA has shown use of homeopathic treatments such as acupuncture, TaiChi etc has shown positive results

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  • Buffmiket
    06/01/2017
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    About time, cannabis, not narcotics.

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  • Alex b.
    06/01/2017
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    Yes yes yes yes yes. There are so many benefits for this. Especially with people dealing with PTSD

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  • SymanthaFox
    06/01/2017
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    Support this forward movement to the legalization of marijuana.

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