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Congress Approves Medical Marijuana Counseling for Veterans

June 1, 2016

 


The tide continues to move in favor of medical marijuana on the federal level. As Pennsylvania became the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana, the United States Congress took some baby steps in the same direction. On May 19, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate approved an amendment that prevents the V.A. from trying to stop its doctors from counseling and recommending medical marijuana to veterans who are their patients.

Medical marijuana is shown to be effective to treat some cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and generally conditions involving spasms, chronic pain, neuropathic disorders, and a wide range of other muscular and nervous conditions. This may be one of the first instances of positive input by Congress into the medical marijuana discussion. In fact, it is reportedly the first time in history that both chambers of the federal government have agreed on such a proposal.

This appears to be a historic development that will eventually lead to medical marijuana being dispensed directly by the VA to its patients receiving medical attention. If so, it will also be a life-saving move because at this time the main drugs being prescribed for these types of conditions are the ruthlessly addictive opiate painkillers. The opening up of medical marijuana will provide a non-addictive alternative to opioids for veterans, and in that sense, will save untold human tragedies caused by drug addiction.

In fact, the death rate from opioids among VA health care patients is nearly double the national average, which is in itself growing by leaps and bounds. Many personal reports from individual veterans have been sent to Congresspersons telling them how they have benefited from medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids. The vote in favor of the Amendment in both houses shows the dramatic evolution of the medical marijuana platform, even on the federal level. The House voted 233-to-189 in favor and the Senate voted 89-to-8 in favor.

This bill did not technically legalize medical marijuana on the federal level. Instead, it endorses the right of VA doctors to discuss and recommend marijuana therapies to their patients. Presumably, the patients would have to obtain the right to use the medications by getting medical marijuana identification cards from a state practitioner. One of the most resistant barriers to change has been the persistent attachment of the federal government to the classification of marijuana as a dangerous substance.

It is difficult to say why the federal authorities are sticking to their outmoded views on the efficacy of marijuana medical therapies. Perhaps they see it as a first threat to the commercial interests that federal enforcement agencies have built up on the marijuana enforcement and incarceration model. That model, however, is devolving in the public eye and also in the bipartisan view of the U.S. Congress.

National medical marijuana advocacy organizations thanked Congress for finally taking the broad view and taking appropriate steps to bring necessary new treatments to our deserving veterans. The prior federal policy had prevented veterans all over the nation from using medical marijuana in states where it is legal. That will now be changed.

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