Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) is set to introduce an amendment to the 2017 military appropriations bill later this week, which will prohibit using funds to enforce the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) policy banning its physicians from referring patients to medical marijuana programs. Under the amendment, VA medical providers would effectively be able to recommend medical marijuana to vets in states where it is legal.
"I have heard from countless people about the therapeutic aspects of medical marijuana," Blumenauer told HIGH TIMES. "There are a whole range of benefits that people receive, and yet the VA doesn't allow doctors to talk to their patients about medical marijuana."
"I just think it's unfortunate that the doctors who know them best aren't able to discuss this as a treatment option in states where it is legal," Blumenauer continued. "It is particularly ironic because VA patients have opioid overdoses that kill them [at rates] nearly twice the national average."
Blumenauer's plans to introduce the amendment in the House following the approval of a similar amendment in the Senate committee. Together, Blumenauer said the proposals have a good chance of passing the legislature.
Since 2014, Blumenauer has tried several times to move Congress on this issue; the last two years, the amendment failed, but by a narrowing margin (last year, it came down to just three votes).
Blumenauer also introduced the Veterans Equal Access Act in 2015, noting veterans' high rates of PTSD, depression and problematic opioid use. Blumenauer said then that the "status quo" blocking vets' access to medical marijuana "has numerous harmful effects," including self-medicating and a tendency among doctors and patients to use drugs "that are potentially more harmful and more addictive."
Blumenauer told HIGH TIMES his new amendment has a better chance of seeing a vote on the floor because "legislation still makes some people a little uneasy, and it has to compete with all the other committee business, so if this isn't the priority of the committee or looks controversial, they might take their time getting to it."
Noting the spread of medical marijuana across the United States, Blumenauer said he is confident the amendment will pass this year.
"This is something that is coming," he said. "It's a better service for vets. It's fair. And momentum is building."
Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care, a group that advocates for vets' access to medical marijuana, applauded the introduction of last year's bill.
"The willingness to die for America should not be rewarded with less freedom and worse healthcare options," Scott Murphy, President of Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care, said in a press release. "This unequal protection for our nations heroes is a stain on American values."
Disabled U.S. Navy Veteran T.J. Thompson agreed.
"I volunteered my life to protect this country, yet due to federal prohibition and interference, my treatment options as a disabled veteran are limited," Thompson said. "With suicide and prescription drug abuse plaguing our veteran population, it is about time that a Member Congress has decided to stand up for those of us who stood up to protect their rights."