A Democratic congressman is slamming the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DOD) for perpetuating a “misguided denial of services” by recommending against the use of medical marijuana by veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, sent a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough and DOD Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday—the same day that he helped pass an amendment to a spending bill covering VA that allow the department’s doctors to issue medical marijuana recommendations to veterans living in legal states.
VA and DOD “have a long history of claiming the best interest of our veterans and service-members only to deny the reality of medical marijuana as a key treatment option for those impacted by PTSD,” he wrote, referencing recently updated joint clinical practice guidelines that the departments released last month.
In that guidance, the agencies asserted that the “benefits of cannabis were outweighed by the potential serious adverse effects,” and that they “found no new evidence” on cannabis to treat PTSD.
But the congressman is pushing back.
“For decades, I have heard from veterans across the country that medical cannabis has been a life-saving treatment for PTSD,” Blumenauer wrote, as Politico first noted. “I urge you to reconsider the antiquated and insufficient recommendation ‘against the use of cannabis or cannabis derivatives in treating patients with PTSD.'”
“To date, 38 states have adopted medical marijuana programs in recognition of marijuana’s medical use in treatment for numerous conditions. Many veterans report using cannabis for medical purposes as a substitute for prescription drugs and their side effects,” he said, adding that a recent survey of veterans who use cannabis found that they report improved quality of life and reduced use of certain prescription drugs, including opioids.
The congressman also pointed to the fact that President Joe Biden signed bipartisan legislation last year that he sponsored to streamline research into cannabis.
“Given these significant developments, it is irresponsible for VA and DoD to continue to deny patients access to medical marijuana as a treatment option based on the myth that this substance does not have accepted medical use,” he said. “As your guidance references, the failed federal prohibition on research unduly deters our nation’s ability to study the health impacts of marijuana. This prohibition has not prevented states from pushing forward to establish these programs. It’s unacceptable that veterans are denied this treatment option that’s available to patients outside the VA system.”
“Continuing to force veterans outside of VA care in order to get complete information on medical marijuana as a treatment option does a disservice to those suffering wounds, visible and hidden, from their service to our nation. It is past time for VA and DoD to become better partners in the path forward on this issue for our veterans. Instead of blocking veterans from equal access to this treatment option for PTSD, VA and DoD should participate in the additional research we owe to patients and the public. I urge you to rethink the detrimental guidance against providers serving their patients to the best of their ability where medical marijuana is authorized and regulated by their states.”
The letter was sent to the secretaries on the same day that the House approved an amendment to appropriations legislation, cosponsored by Blumenauer and his bipartisan Cannabis Caucus co-chairs, that would prevent the enforcement of VA policies barring its doctors from filing out paperwork to recommend medical marijuana for veterans.
The House also passed another amendment on Wednesday that’s meant to encourage research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA.
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Meanwhile, a report attached to the spending legislation by the House Appropriations Committee also includes a section noting that “VA has clarified that nothing in VA statutes or regulations specifically prohibits a veteran whose income is derived from state-legalized cannabis activities from obtaining a certificate of eligibility for VA home loan benefits.”
Wednesday’s vote to approve the amendments represents one of the first examples of progress on cannabis and psychedelics reform in the GOP-controlled House. There were some concerns that all modest proposals on the issue might be held up in the Rules Committee, as the panel recently blocked more than a dozen other drug policy reform amendments that were proposed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Additionally, Democratic senators are seeking to pass a series of marijuana reform amendments through its version of the NDAA.
One of the proposals, led by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), would allow veterans to use medical cannabis in states and territories where its legal, mirroring a standalone bill that the senator introduced in April.
It would additionally protect doctors who discuss and fill out paperwork to recommend medical marijuana for veterans. And it would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to support clinical trials investigating the therapeutic effects of cannabis in the treatment of conditions such as pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that commonly afflict veterans.
Separately, the Senate Appropriations Committee also recently released a report for its VA spending legislation that includes language calling on the department to facilitate medical marijuana access for veterans and explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Read the full letter to VA and DOD below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.