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  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house has not voted
    IntroducedNovember 14th, 2018

What is it?

This bill would clarify and codify an existing official Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) policy on medical marijuana use that protects a veteran’s benefits if they discuss medical marijuana use with their healthcare provider. This law is currently not widely known or universally followed. It would also establish a policy that states its VA policy to be supportive of medical marijuana use for veterans, and not penalize veterans who are using cannabis as an alternative form of treatment.

The following would be established as the VA’s policy regarding medical marijuana:

  • Veterans would be encouraged to discuss medical marijuana use with their healthcare providers without fear of negative repercussions;

  • Veterans shall not be denied any benefits on the basis of cannabis use;

  • A veteran’s participation in a state-legal marijuana program shall not affect their eligibility for VA care and services;

  • Marijuana use and/or possession on VA property and in VA facilities remains prohibited pursuant to federal law, regardless of state-level laws;

  • VA medical providers shall honor patients’ desires to seek alternative forms of treatment (including medical marijuana);

  • The VA acknowledges that medical marijuana use may be a legitimate alternative treatment, and VA medical providers won’t recommend a veteran for drug addiction treatment because of medical marijuana use;

  • VA medical providers are permitted to discuss cannabis use as part of comprehensive care planning, and may adjust treatment plans as necessary. Treatment adjustment should be relevant, and a veteran should have the freedom to seek a second opinion if they feel the change isn’t fair;

  • VA medical providers will annotate a veteran’s cannabis use in their medical record in order to have the information available in treatment planning. This is part of the veteran’s confidential medical record, and is protected under patient privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations. VA medical providers won’t record that a veteran has a marijuana addiction problem in their medical record if the patient is responsibly using medical marijuana;

  • VA clinicians shall follow federal laws and regulations relating to medical marijuana;

  • VA scientists may conduct research on cannabis risks and benefits, under regulatory approval; and

  • VA medical providers may not dissuade participation in non-VA medical marijuana research.

The VA Secretary would be responsible for disseminating this policy widely. This includes displaying it prominently in all VA hospitals and clinics, and online on the VA’s website.

If medical marijuana use becomes legal at the federal level, the ban on marijuana use and possession on VA property and in VA facilities (the fourth policy in the above list) would be lifted.

Impact

Veterans; medical marijuana; VA doctors; and the VA

Cost

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-Depth: Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) introduced this bill to ensure that the VA provides high quality healthcare to veterans and advises them on medical marijuana use:

“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. We have a long road ahead of us until medicinal cannabis is fully researched and legal but we can take a few steps now to start figuring that out. As someone who still receives healthcare from the VA, I see no reason why veterans healthcare should be behind the eight ball.”

This bill is part of a three bill package that Rep. Moulton and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) have introduced to push the VA towards better-integrating cannabis into the treatment it provides to veterans. This legislative package has been endorsed by drug policy reform groups, including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and Drug Policy Alliance, as well as the National Cannabis Industry Association. NORML political director Justin Strekal points out that uncertain VA policy regarding medical marijuana uses hurts veterans’ relationships with their doctors:

“These issues can be a matter of life or death for our nation’s veterans. The uncertainty of VA policy when it comes to a veteran’s ability to have an honest conversation with their doctor has a deleterious effect on the doctor-patient relationship and dishonors the promise that America made to those who put on the uniform to protect our nation’s freedoms.”

While it hasn’t taken an explicit position on this legislative package, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) has made “the approval of medical cannabis for every veteran in America who need it” a major legislative priority.

However, while it supports this bill, NORML also points out that the legislative package fails to address allowing VA doctors to fill out state legal medical marijuana recommendation forms. NORML’s Executive Director, Justin Strekal, writes:

“While commendable advances if passed, [Moulton’s] bills fail to include the fix needed most swiftly of VA policy, which would be to allow VA doctors to fill out the necessary state-legal medical marijuana recommendation form in the 33 states that now have laws governing the therapeutic use of cannabis.”

Former VA Secretary David Shulkin opposed medical marijuana for veterans, arguing that there’s “insufficient evidence to demonstrate benefits of cannabis use for patients with PTSD or chronic pain.”

There are three cosponsors of this bill, including two Democrats and one Republican.


Of Note: According to the American Legion, more than one in five American veterans uses marijuana to treat a medical ailment. Many of these veterans say that the VA isn’t responsive to their needs, as it’s long said that VA doctors can’t legally issue recommendations for marijuana due to the federal prohibition on cannabis. The VA has also largely refused to conduct studies on marijuana’s potential efficacy as a treatment for PTSD and other disorders common among veterans.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / LPETTET)

Popular Title

Department of Veterans Affairs Policy for Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018

Official Title

To provide for a Department of Veterans Affairs policy on medicinal cannabis, and for other purposes.

    I have 4th stage Parkinson’s and have seen so many videos on the positive results of cannibas results. I should not lose my benefits because I want to try something to better my lifestyle.
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    The VA being a federal agency shouldn’t support or administer drugs that are illegal at the federal level. I support the use of medical marijuana for veterans with varying mental and physical disabilities however the focus should be on decriminalizing marijuana as whole before questioning the VAs ability to prescribe it
    Like (32)
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    Yes, it is a better alternative than some of the other drugs.
    Like (79)
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    Absolutely! It should be legal for all sorts of reasons.
    Like (77)
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    When one is suffering, the right to seek the most relief possible with the least penalties possible is necessary. No one has been more disappointed by the government than veterans and no one deserves more support and benefits than veterans. Cannabis is extremely useful and helpful. While alcohol is legal, with all the penalties that drinking accrues, cannabis needs to be available and supported.
    Like (66)
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    Best pain killer known to man. That’s why the pharmaceutical industry is against it
    Like (37)
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    Cheaper than OxyContin. No notorious side effects.
    Like (33)
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    Cannabis is much better alternative to opioids and it should be completely legal anyway.
    Like (31)
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    It Is An Safer Alternative Medicine To Oxytocin
    Like (27)
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    Natural and NOT big pharma.
    Like (27)
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    If it helps, of course!
    Like (27)
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    Our vets need all the help they can get. Pot is cheaper and healthier than any pill.
    Like (23)
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    Medical marijuana is a harmless natural substance that has already proven to be beneficial to millions of people for pain and many other health benefits and should be made available to anyone who chooses it as their preferred medication. Harvard reports the following information. "The most common use for medical marijuana in the United States is for pain control. While marijuana isn’t strong enough for severe pain (for example, post-surgical pain or a broken bone), it is quite effective for the chronic pain that plagues millions of Americans, especially as they age. Part of its allure is that it is clearly safer than opiates (it is impossible to overdose on and far less addictive) and it can take the place of NSAIDs such as Advil or Aleve, if people can’t take them due to problems with their kidneys or ulcers or GERD. In particular, marijuana appears to ease the pain of multiple sclerosis, and nerve pain in general. This is an area where few other options exist, and those that do, such as Neurontin, Lyrica, or opiates are highly sedating. Patients claim that marijuana allows them to resume their previous activities without feeling completely out of it and disengaged. Along these lines, marijuana is said to be a fantastic muscle relaxant, and people swear by its ability to lessen tremors in Parkinson’s disease. I have also heard of its use quite successfully for fibromyalgia, endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, and most other conditions where the final common pathway is chronic pain. Marijuana is also used to manage nausea and weight loss, and can be used to treat glaucoma. A highly promising area of research is its use for PTSD in veterans who are returning from combat zones. Many veterans and their therapists report drastic improvement and clamor for more studies, and for a loosening of governmental restrictions on its study. Medical marijuana is also reported to help patients suffering from pain and wasting syndrome associated with HIV, as well as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease." If that's the case then I certainly can't see any reason whatsoever why it shouldn't be made available.
    Like (17)
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    This medication can help ease pain from combat for wounded veterans and can also help them cope with the realities of war and ease their stress
    Like (16)
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    Absolutely! Marijuana needs to be legalized for all!
    Like (16)
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    YES
    Like (16)
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    Shit, they should just be supportive of recreational use too
    Like (15)
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    Research strongly suggests that WPT cannabis is a successful treatment for PTSD.
    Like (15)
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    Yes, and all federal employees too. There are a plethora of other medications that ARE legal that have more side effects, including drowsiness, etc, that they take. So why not as long as it’s monitored.
    Like (15)
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    If our veterans know it helps them, no one should stand in their way. We should be bending over backwards to make sure they get everything they need to live a healthy life. It’s the least we can do for their sacrifice
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