VA under pressure to embrace medical marijuana

·Reporter
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Marijuana plants grown for medicinal purposes at a greenhouse in Mexico City. (Photo: Yuri Cortez/AFP)

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senate and House members sent a letter Wednesday urging the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to let its doctors discuss and recommend medical marijuana as a treatment in states where it is legal.

The letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald comes four days before the expiration of a current directive that prohibits VA physicians from recommending the plant for medicinal purposes.

“According to the current directive, VA providers are prohibited from completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a veteran’s participation in a state-sanctioned marijuana program,” the letter reads in part. “This policy disincentivizes doctors and patients from being honest with each other.”

The group argues that VHA Directive 2011-004, which expires on Sunday, discourages veterans from having frank discussions with their doctors for fear of losing benefits.

Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) led the bipartisan group in its call for medical marijuana reform.

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The letter was addressed to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald. (Photo: Sait Serkan Gurbuz/AP)

“We should be doing everything we can to make life easier for our veterans,” Merkley said. “Prohibiting VA doctors from talking to their patients about medical marijuana just doesn’t make sense.”

The letter was signed by a total of 21 politicians, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Reps. Joe Heck (R-Nev.), and Justin Amash (R-Mich.).

“When veterans walk into a VA facility and talk with their doctor, they can’t discuss all of the options available to them that they could discuss at a non-VA facility next door,” Daines said. “Current VA policy is not only a clear violation of states’ 10th Amendment rights — it’s a violation of our veterans’ First Amendment rights to talk openly and freely with their doctors. Veterans shouldn’t be discriminated against just because they’re seeking the care they deserve at VA facilities.”

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to marijuana policy reform, applauded the senators and representatives for “standing up for our nation’s veterans.”

“For many of them it could mean the difference between a good quality of life and a poor quality of life,” Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for MPP, said in an interview with Yahoo News. “I worked on state levels for several years before moving to federal. I can’t tell you how many calls I got from veterans with chronic conditions, and you hear all the time from people who benefit substantially from being able to use medical marijuana.”

Recreational marijuana has been legalized in four states, and medical marijuana has been legalized in 23 states. Both recreational and medical marijuana are legal in the District of Columbia.

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