For many veterans, healthcare is a battlefield in which they have to fight the government for access to medical marijuana. But that could soon change thanks to a bill recently passed by Congress.
Even though medical marijuana is legal in 24 states (with Louisiana on its way to becoming number 25), cannabis is still federally prohibited. That means doctors working with Veterans Affairs (VA) could face prosecution if they recommend medicinal cannabis use. And that's why the VA decided to protect its doctors by banning them from making such recommendations until the federal government changed its marijuana laws.
Now that change is on the horizon. On May 19, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, which will effectively allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana for veterans. On the same day, the Senate passed a spending bill that included similar reforms. That means the right for veterans to access cannabis for medicinal use is headed to the Oval Office. If President Obama signs the legislation, the new regulations would likely take effect next year.
"This is a significant step forward in our cause," said Brandon Wyatt - an Iraq War veteran who is also a lawyer and activist. He praised Congress' action on the issue. But he also reminded legislators that more work needs to be done to ensure that all veterans have access to cannabis for medicinal use. The current bill only applies to vets living in states that have already legalized medical marijuana.
"The job is not finished," he said in a press release, "because this legislation does not allow all veterans to be provided with the quality healthcare they need in order to be free of the fear of having to self-medicate. Easier access doesn't equate to equal access."
Major gaps in access to cannabis need to be fixed
The bill also doesn't allow VA clinics to distribute marijuana, and it doesn't allow VA to cover the costs, according to the press release circulated by Weed for Warriors, an activist group lobbying for the rights of veterans.
"It simply would allow veterans to enrol in a state medical cannabis program with no recriminations from the VA," Wyatt explained, "which should not have been the situation initially. Medical punishment is unethical, wrong and has promoted distrust, treatment refusal and death among veterans..."
Weed for Warriors noted that veterans comprise only seven percent of America's total population, yet they represent 20 percent of the country's suicides.
"This measure doesn't change the overarching fact that cannabis, including medical cannabis, remains illegal under federal law," Wyatt added.
But Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), who introduced the bill, told The Huffington Post that he is confident that those laws will change in the near future thanks to gains like those made this week. "I'm convinced within five years, everybody in America will have access to some form of medical marijuana," he said.
h/t The Huffington Post.