Congressional Leadership Strips Provisions Facilitating Medical Marijuana Access For Veterans

Lawmakers have removed language from pending federal legislation that sought to facilitate veterans’ access to medical cannabis in jurisdictions that regulate it.

The decision to strip out the Veterans Equal Access Amendment flies in the face of the horrific medical realities that our nation’s heroes who are desperate to mitigate. This move thwarts the will of the majority of Americans who support medical marijuana and 81% of veterans who believe that the federal government should protect its therapeutic access. Further, by not creating protections for veterans, the Congress continues to view 22% of those who have worn the uniform as criminals.

Under existing federal regulations, physicians affiliated with the US Department of Veterans Affairs are prohibited from filling out the necessary paperwork required in legal medical marijuana states. A budgetary amendment included in the Senate’s version the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill sought to end this prohibition. However, Congressional leaders this week elected to eliminate the provision during hearings to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer, the author of similar legislative language now pending in the House of Representatives, said “Denying veterans the care they need by the doctors they trust is shameful. The Senate passed this amendment. It has broad bipartisan support in the House. This should have been a no brainer. Yet, Republican leadership has once again stymied progress toward fair and equal treatment for our veterans. Their continued neglect of commonsense and the will of the American people is a disgrace.”

Veteran and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said, “Our veterans put their lives on the line for our country, and many come home dealing with visible and invisible wounds. To continue limiting their access to quality healthcare through the VA is a disservice to them and the sacrifices they’ve made.”

The Veterans Cannabis Coalition released a statement saying “Every day that cannabis prohibition continues is a day a veteran dies unnecessarily. The Republican conferees on the House Appropriations Committee and House Republican leadership should be ashamed of this backroom deal that stripped the Veterans Equal Access amendment from this year’s MILCON-VA appropriations bill. This decision of Republican leaders flies in the face of science, compassion, and overwhelming public support. The Republican conference has steadfastly voted to send millions of other people’s sons and daughters to fight in endless wars while fighting tooth-and-nail to prevent the study of something that provides relief and healing to those injured in military service. Leadership can’t claim to care about veterans health and well-being while refusing to even discuss cannabis. Enough hypocrisy. We call on House Republicans to listen to the literally tens of thousands of veterans who have benefited from cannabis access, negotiate in good faith, and allow votes to take place.”

“This move by Congressional leadership is egregious and constitutes a slap in the face to the heroes who put their lives on the line to defend our country,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri. “Continuing to treat veterans who risked it all as criminals when they opt to utilize a safe and effective treatment option like cannabis is immoral and un-American.”

Similar language was included by both chambers in the 2016 version of the funding bill, but was similarly stripped from the text in conference committee.

Last week, Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) for the first time introduced stand-alone Senate legislation to expand medical cannabis access to military veterans. A recent American Legion poll found that nearly one in four veterans use marijuana to alleviate a medical condition.

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