Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) signed onto a bill on Thursday that would effectively legalize medical marijuana for military veterans.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, who has backed broader cannabis reform measures as well, cosponsored the legislation, which in addition to providing a federal “safe harbor” for veterans to use and possess cannabis in legal states would also allow doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend medical cannabis to their patients.
If the bill is enacted, it “shall not be unlawful” for veterans to “use, possess, or transport medical marijuana in a State or on Indian land if the use, possession, or transport is authorized and in accordance with the law of the applicable State or Indian Tribe.”
The text also lists “findings” related to the proposal, noting research that suggests cannabis can treat conditions that commonly afflict veterans and potentially serve as an alternative to prescription opioids.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced the legislation in February, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) was an original cosponsor.
Sanders has been one of the most prominent advocates for cannabis reform in Congress, and he was the first major presidential candidate to endorse legalization during his last campaign in 2015. However, this appears to be the first time he’s cosponsored a veterans-specific marijuana bill.
Last month, the senator released a wide-ranging plan to end prohibition, which involves using executive action to federally deschedule cannabis within his first 100 days in office, pushing Congress to pass legislation that would make legalization permanent and ensuring that the people most harmed by the drug war, as opposed to large corporations, are the primary beneficiaries of the legal market.
Sanders talked about the three-step plan during a recent interview on Showtime’s Desus & Mero.
Another unique proposal that Sanders is open to, according to a top campaign advisor, is covering medical cannabis through a universal health care program that he’s championed.
There’s particular bipartisan support for reforming marijuana laws as it relates to veterans, especially when it comes to promoting research into its potential therapeutic value to the population. David Shulkin, a former VA secretary, has recently made much of the importance of studying medical cannabis for veterans, even though the department declined to take such steps under his leadership.
Shulkin blamed VA staff for feeding him false information about what the agency was capable of doing while marijuana remained federally illegal.
Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull.