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Sanders, Warren, Biden And Buttigieg Include Medical Marijuana In Veterans Day Plans



To commemorate Veterans Day, a number of presidential candidates are releasing plans focused on helping those who served the country in the military—and at least four major contenders are including marijuana-specific planks in their proposals.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), for example, wants to ensure that doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) “have the option of appropriately prescribing medical marijuana to their patients.”

Under current VA policy, government healthcare providers are not able to complete medical cannabis recommendation forms for their patients, even when they are in states that have voted to make the drug legally available.

The Sanders plan, released on Monday, would also make it so that “any servicemember discharged from the military for marijuana use or possession can apply for a discharge upgrade, so they can become eligible for the full complement of services and benefits provided by the VA.”

Last week, Sanders cosponsored a pending Senate bill that would provide a safe harbor federally legalizing the use and possession of marijuana for military veterans in states that allow it. That legislation would also let VA physicians issue medical cannabis recommendations to their patients.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has been slower to embrace marijuana law reform than most other candidates, said in his veterans platform that his administration will “support the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes and reschedule cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts.”

“This will include allowing the VA to research the use of medical cannabis to treat veteran-specific health needs,” the plan says.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D), a veteran himself, rolled out a plan on Monday pledging to “support legislation that will empower VA physicians to issue medical cannabis recommendations to augment a veterans’ broader treatment plan, in accordance with the laws of states where it is legal.”

His proposal would also press VA to “conduct studies on the use of marijuana to treat pain.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) put out a veterans plan last week that notes her support for “legislation to study the use of medical cannabis to treat veterans as an alternative to opioids, because we need to pursue all evidence-based opportunities for treatment and response.”

In addition to the veterans-specific cannabis pledges, Sanders, Buttigieg and Warren have backed broader proposals to legalize marijuana and repair the harms of past prohibition enforcement.

Sanders, for example, issued a cannabis plan last month promising to deschedule marijuana within the first 100 days of his administration via executive action. It would also seek to ensure that the marijuana industry is fair and equitable by banning tobacco companies from participating, enacting market and franchise caps and providing resources “for people to start cooperatives and collective nonprofits as marijuana businesses that will create jobs and economic growth in local communities.”

A top Sanders campaign advisor said that the senator is open to covering medical cannabis through his Medicare for All plan.

Buttigieg, for his part, toured a Las Vegas cannabis retail store last month, where he discussed his support for broader legalization.

During the dispensary visit, the mayor told a Marijuana Moment reporter that he has “met a lot of veterans who rely on cannabis for the treatment of diagnosed or undiagnosed issues, often service-connected issues like post-traumatic stress” and supports covering medical marijuana expenses through healthcare plans.

The mayor has also pledged to decriminalize possession of all drugs during his first term.

Warren is the lead sponsor of pending Senate legislation that would exempt state-legal cannabis activity from federal prohibition. Her broad criminal justice reform plan released this summer calls for “legalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions.”

A separate plan the senator released on empowering Indian tribes noted that “a number of Tribal Nations view cannabis as an important economic opportunity” and that her legislation would “safeguard the ability of Tribal Nations to make their own marijuana policies.”

Nearly every other current 2020 Democratic presidential candidate has endorsed legalizing marijuana, with the notable exception of Biden, who supports a modest move to reschedule it under federal law.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who in recent days has taken steps to potentially enter the presidential race, said earlier this year that legalizing cannabis is “perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done.”

When it comes to military veterans and medical marijuana, Rep. Barbara Lee also issued a veterans-specific cannabis reform message on Monday.

“Prohibiting VA doctors from recommending cannabis to qualifying patients, while continuing to rely on pharmaceuticals drugs like opioids as a treatment, is both a dangerous and illogical policy,” the c0-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus wrote in an email to NORML activists. “We know medical marijuana can be an effective and safe treatment for veterans and it is time to stop making them seek private, out-of-network physicians to access it.”

This piece was first published by Forbes.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.


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