A key U.S. Senate committee has approved a spending bill with an amendment allowing doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to patients living in legal states.
The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the cannabis amendment from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) in a voice vote on Thursday before advancing the overall legislation, which provides funding for VA for the 2024 Fiscal Year.
The measure “simply says, in states that have a medical cannabis program, that a veteran’s doctor can talk to their veteran patient about the pros and cons of medical cannabis and fill out related paperwork should a veteran decide to participate in a state program where such paperwork is required,” the senator said.
Watch the committee discuss the marijuana and veterans amendment, starting around 1:08:15 into the video below:
The amendment would achieve the same policy outcome as a standalone bill that was refiled on the House side from Reps. Brian Mast (R-FL) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.
The Veterans Equal Access Act has been introduced several times in recent years with bipartisan support—and moved through committee and floor approval a number of times—but has yet to be enacted.
Meanwhile, the House Armed Services Committee held a markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Wednesday, and members adopted GOP-led provisions to create a medical marijuana “pilot program” and require a study into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for active duty military members under the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).
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In February, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved another bill to direct VA to carry out studies into the therapeutic potential of marijuana for military veterans with certain conditions—marking the first time that standalone cannabis legislation ever advanced through a panel in the chamber. But Senate Republicans blocked a procedural motion to move it to the floor in April.
Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) filed a different bill late last month that would similarly promote research into the medical potential of marijuana for military veterans with PTSD, chronic pain and other conditions deemed appropriate by the VA secretary.
A coalition of more than 20 veterans service organizations (VSOs) sent a letter to congressional leaders late last year to urge the passage of a marijuana and veterans research bill before the end of the last Congress. But that did not pan out.
Bipartisan House and Senate lawmakers also refiled bills in April to legalize medical cannabis for military veterans.
The legislation would temporarily allow veterans to legally possess and use marijuana 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.
Read the text of Merkley’s veterans medical cannabis amendment below:
SEC. ___ None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the Department of Veterans Affairs in this Act may be used in a manner that would—
(1) interfere with the ability of a veteran to participate in a medicinal marijuana program approved by a State;
(2) deny any services from the Department to a veteran who is participating in such a program; or
(3) limit or interfere with the ability of a health care provider of the Department to make appropriate recommendations, fill out forms, or take steps to comply with such a program.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.