A congressional conference committee negotiating the final details of funding legislation for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has decided against including a Senate-passed provision that would have allowed military veterans to receive medical marijuana recommendations from their government doctors.
Under a bill to fund the VA for Fiscal Year 2019 that was approved by the Senate with an 85-to-5 vote in June, the department would not have been able to spend any money enforcing its own internal prohibition on VA doctors filling out medical cannabis forms for veterans in states where it is legal.
But, because House Republican leaders blocked their colleagues from even being able to vote on including such language in their chamber’s version of the legislation, the issue was up for discussion by a bicameral panel that was tasked with merging the proposals into a single bill that can be sent to President Trump for his signature.
The conferees opted not to include the cannabis provision in the final legislation released on Monday.
“Denying veterans the care they need by the doctors they trust is shameful,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who has worked on veterans’ medical cannabis legislation for years, said in a statement sent to Marijuana Moment. “The Senate passed this amendment. It has broad bipartisan support in the House. This should have been a no brainer. Yet, Republican leadership has once again stymied progress toward fair and equal treatment for our veterans. Their continued neglect of commonsense and the will of the American people is a disgrace.”
Republican leadership continues to stymie much-needed progress. There must be a price to pay this November for denying veterans the care they need by the doctors they trust. https://t.co/lbeneW3Ip7
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) September 10, 2018
“Our veterans put their lives on the line for our country, and many come home dealing with visible and invisible wounds,” Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) said. “To continue limiting their access to quality healthcare through the VA is a disservice to them and the sacrifices they’ve made.”
This isn’t the first time that marijuana reformers have been dealt a loss with the VA funding bill after winning initial victories.
In 2016, both the House and Senate approved provisions to let military veterans get medical cannabis recommendations from their VA physicians. But, because the proposals’ language differed from one another somewhat, it was a topic up for conference committee consideration. The panel, behind closed doors, decided to strip the issue from the final bill altogether.
“This move by congressional leadership is egregious and constitutes a slap in the face to the heroes who put their lives on the line to defend our country,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said of the latest setback. “Continuing to treat veterans who risked it all as criminals when they opt to utilize a safe and effective treatment option like cannabis is immoral and un-American.”