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Congresswoman Wants Recreational Marijuana Stores Open To Serve Veterans Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

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A congresswoman is raising concern that a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) policy prohibiting its doctors from recommending medical marijuana to patients means that military veterans could be especially impacted by her home state’s decision to shut down recreational cannabis shops amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) raised the issue in a tweet, linking to a story about a veterans advocacy group that is calling on Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (D) to reopen adult-use shops so that veterans can continue to obtain marijuana products more readily and without fear of being penalized.

While medical cannabis dispensaries remain open in the state, the Veterans Cannabis Project said service members often resist registering as patients out of concern about losing federal benefits. Getting certified as medical cannabis patients can also take time and money that many veterans don’t have. In contrast, any adult over 21 years of age can walk into a recreational marijuana shop—or they could, before Baker ordered them closed as part of broader business shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although VA has an administrative policy that says veterans will not lose their federal benefits due to marijuana use, it is not widely known and could be changed at any time. Meanwhile, though VA has maintained that its physicians can discuss cannabis use with veterans, they’re barred from helping them obtain the substance—and that includes by issuing recommendations to certify them as medical cannabis patients under state laws.

“Under federal policy, [VA] health care providers may not recommend marijuana or assist veterans in obtaining it,” Clark said. “By closing down recreational dispensaries, our veterans who rely on these stores are left without care.”

VA “must change its policy and in the meantime, the state must find a way to serve our vets,” she added. “No one should be left behind in this national emergency.”

Baker defended his decision to shut down recreational marijuana shops on Tuesday by arguing that, because Massachusetts is one of few Northeast states that allow adult-use sales, keeping them open would mean attracting out-of-state visitors who could spread the virus.

Clark has championed other cannabis- and veterans- released issues in the past. Last year, the House approved an amendment the congresswoman sponsored that sought to end a VA  policy that denies home loans to veterans simply because they work in the marijuana industry. The Senate did not follow suit, however, and the provision was not enacted into law.

A separate piece of legislation that would allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations, introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), was approved by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee last month. That panel also voted in favor of a bill that would require VA to conduct clinical trials on the potential therapeutic benefits of marijuana for conditions that commonly afflict veterans such as chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, Blumenauer’s bill to allow VA doctors to recommend cannabis would have zero fiscal impact.

That said, in a hearing last year, VA officials voiced opposition to a variety of marijuana-related bills, including the congressman’s proposal.

Washington Governor Signs Bill To Diversify State’s Marijuana Industry

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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