A bipartisan coalition of congressional lawmakers on Thursday reintroduced legislation that would federally legalize medical marijuana for military veterans.
The bill is being sponsored by Reps. Barbara lee (D-CA) and Dave Joyce (R-OH), both co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, in the House, along with nine other original cosponsors. On the Senate side, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) is leading the proposal, and he’s joined by five other lawmakers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would temporarily allow veterans to legally possess and use cannabis under federal law, as recommended by doctors in accordance with state law. Physicians with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) would also be allowed for the first time to issue such recommendations. Further, it would require VA to study the therapeutic potential of marijuana for pain and reducing opioid misuse.
Currently, VA allows its physicians to talk about cannabis use with veterans, but they’re prohibited from issuing recommendations that would allow them to obtain marijuana from state-legal markets.
Earlier versions of the companion bills were introduced in the last two Congresses but did not advance. With Democrats in control of both chambers and the White House this session, however, there’s renewed optimism that these types of cannabis proposals could move in 2021.
“It has been scientifically proven that medical marijuana has a considerable impact in treating conditions common with veterans when they return from service, like chronic pain and PTSD,” Lee said in a press release. “This legislation will empower veterans and their doctors to make informed decisions about the use of medical marijuana to treat chronic conditions in states with legal medical marijuana programs without federal interference.”
Joyce said that there’s “a growing body of evidence about the beneficial uses of medical cannabis as treatment for PTSD and chronic pain, two terrible conditions that plague many of our veterans.”
“If a state has made it legal, like Ohio has, the federal government should not be preventing a VA doctor from recommending medical cannabis if they believe that treatment is right for their patient,” he said. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this important bill and will continue to do everything in my power to ensure we are providing our veterans with the care they need to overcome the wounds of war.”
For the fiscal years 2022 and 2023, the bill would set aside $15 million for VA to administer the policy change.
The legalization and physician recommendation provisions of the legislation would expire after five years, unless renewed by Congress.
“In 36 states, doctors and their patients have the option to use medical marijuana to manage pain—unless those doctors work for the VA and their patients are veterans,” Schatz said. “This bill protects veteran patients in these states and gives their VA doctors the option to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, and it also promises to shed light on how medical marijuana can help with the nation’s opioid epidemic.”
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Supporters of the proposal include the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, VoteVets, Minority Veterans of America, Veterans Cannabis Coalition, Veterans Cannabis Project, Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, National Cannabis Industry Association, NORML, National Cannabis Roundtable, U.S. Pain Foundation, Drug Policy Alliance, Americans for Safe Access, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Veteran’s Initiative, Arizona Dispensary Association, California Cannabis Industry Association and Hawaii Cannabis Industry Association.
While this reform would constitute a significant policy change for veterans, there are also plans in the works to more broadly end federal marijuana prohibition.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said this week that a bill to federally legalize marijuana that he’s planning to introduce alongside Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) will be brought to the floor of his chamber “soon.”
On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.
Read the text of the medical cannabis legalization bill for veterans below: