MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISCUSSION BAN ON VA DOCTORS HEADS TO SENATE
In April, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations voted in favor of
an amendment that would lift a ban prohibiting V.A. doctors from discussing
medical marijuana use with their patients, at least in states where medical
marijuana is legal. The Committee’s approval means that the bill,
titled the “Veterans Equal Access Amendment to the 27 Military Construction
and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill” (but generally shortened
to “MilCon-VA Appropriations Bill”) will next be considered
by the Senate.
The ban on marijuana discussion is a result of 2011’s VHA Directive
2011-004, which established that VA doctors could not communicate with
patients regarding medical marijuana. Critics of the prohibition say that
it punishes veterans who have served their country, particularly as no
such ban is implemented on civilians. Although the Directive expired on
January 31, 2016, the order remains in effect until further action is taken.
The VA says it is waiting on potential legislative changes regarding veterans
and medical marijuana use prior to deciding whether to implement its own
policy on the issue.
Congress gave a thumbs up to VA Doctors, approving medical marijuana for vets.
The MilCon-VA Appropriations Bill resembles a similar measure, introduced
in 2015, that failed in the House, 210-213. The current Bill revised the
2015 edition, and two senators—Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) and Rep.
Morgan Griffith (R-VA)—who voted against the previous version have
indicated they may vote in favor this time around.
Veterans’ Access to Medical Marijuana Pulled from Final Appropriations Bill
Despite both House and Senate approval,
a measure banning the V.A. from spending funds to prosecute doctors who
discuss medical marijuana with their V.A. patients was pulled from the bill’s final version.
Veterans Equal Access Amendment, included as part of the MilCon-VA Bill, had been approved by the Senate
Appropriations Committee 20-9, and it had passed on the House floor 233-189.
However, during the Democrats’ sit-in for gun control this past
June, House Appropriations Committee Chariman Hal Rogers allowed the provision
to be stripped from the bill in a closed-door session held by the House
“It’s incredibly frustrating and disappointing that despite
broad bipartisan, bicameral support, a handful of out-of-touch lawmakers
put politics over the well-being of America’s wounded warriors,”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, commented in response to the committee’s
actions. “Our veterans deserve better.”
Rep. Blumenauer, along with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, and Sen. Steve
Daines, R-Montana, had authored the provision. The MilCon-VA Bill was
signed into law—minus the Veterans Equal Access Amendment provision—by
President Obama at the end of September.