Veteran medical marijuana patients won an important victory on Thursday, when both the U.S. Senate and House approved legislation prohibiting the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) from spending its funds to enforce a policy banning Veteran Administration doctors from discussing medical marijuana use with patients.
Currently, providers who work for a Veterans Administration facility may not complete forms or even professionally discuss the benefits and risks of medical marijuana use with veteran patients. Opponents to this policy allege that it unfairly penalizes veterans, particularly when compared to their civilian counterparts, who face no such medical restrictions. Given medical marijuana’s frequent use as a treatment for conditions commonly suffered by veterans, such as chronic pain, PTSD, and brain injuries, critics have held that the Veteran Administration restriction blocks valuable medical access to veterans who may need it the most.
With the Senate bill passing 89-8 and the House amendment 233-189, Congress’s approval comes at a time when the public’s support for state legalization of medical marijuana continues to rise.
Furthermore, a study by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam (a top Israeli neuroscientist and senior advisor to the Israeli government on marijuana policy, who both identified THC as the psychoactive compound in marijuana and established a connection between cannabinoids and memory extinction) may have important significance regarding the treatment of PTSD. Dr. Mechoulam believes marijuana may eventually have applications for other neurological and psychiatric conditions, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
Using mice that had been trained to associate a sound with a physical shock, Dr. Mechoulam found that the mice that subsequently received cannabinoid treatment would forget the association between the noise and shock after a few days, whereas the mice that did not would “simply never forget.” He believes this discovery has major implications regarding symptom relief in those suffering from PTSD, comparing it to the medical equivalent of taking aspirin for a headache.
In his article addressing the scientific benefits of cannabis for veterans, he called the FDA’s refusal to investigate cannabinoids for treatment of anxiety disorders “striking.”
“Yet they have approved studies of MDMA, the club drug Ecstasy, for the treatment of PTSD,” he continued. “With the lives and well-being of so many veterans AND private citizens at stake, those in the scientific community and [policy] makers alike cannot afford to miss the wake-up call.”
Although the V.A.’s prohibition on providers discussing medical marijuana with patients technically expired this past January, it remains in effect until another policy replaces it. The legislature approved by Congress will do just that, and it creates protections for both V.A. providers and patients who wish to consider medical marijuana as a treatment option.
The VA has said that 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. The VA’s Policy, Access to Clinical Programs for Veterans Participating in State-Approved Marijuana Programs, is thus on hold until further notice.
The next step in the enactment’s future is a meeting between negotiators from the House and Senate, where discrepancies between the two chambers’ versions will be reconciled. After that, the bill will head to President Obama, whose signature will effectively enact the bill – and the prohibition on the V.A. enforcing its policy – into law.
For more information on Marijuana Law for Veterans, contact Charles Feldmann at MJBusinessAttorneys.com.