Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) are leading the pack to push through legislation that would permit doctors working with the Department of Veterans Affairs recommend medicinal cannabis as a viable therapy.
The current VA policy does not allow doctors to consult about the use of medicinal cannabis with patients; however, the Veterans Equal Access Act would challenge this policy.
According to Blumenauer, “[w]e should be allowing these wounded warriors access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana, not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows.”
Even with four US states now fully legalizing the use of cannabis, it is still classified as a Schedule I drug by the federal government. This puts it in the same category as heroin and LSD. Moreover, this classification means cannabis has “no acceptable medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the Washington Post.
Moreover, this federal law means that VA doctors—which encompasses the largest healthcare network in the country—are not allowed to prescribe (or even recommend) medicinal cannabis to patients who would benefit from it even in states where cannabis is legal. In addition, VA staff members cannot complete paperwork to for state cannabis programs because of their federal employee status.
Allowing veterans the ability to use medicinal cannabis versus the opioid pain medications roughly one million vets are already on could work to drastically cut down on the death rate of opiate overdoses—usually due to VA patients needing to take opioids chronically (i.e. longer than 90 days). In fact, according to the Washington Post, the overdose rate of VA patients taking opiates is almost double that of the national average.
Evidence has been found that cannabis is effective at treating post-traumatic stress disorder and pain, which are two of the major conditions veterans face.
Along with Congressman Blumenauer, Michael Krawitz, Veterans For Medical Cannabis Access executive director, is working to ensure that veterans have access to the best medication they need to treat their condition(s).
Krawitz states: “The Veterans Health Administration has made it very clear that, as federal employees, they lack the free speech necessary to write the recommendations for Veterans to comply with state programs… This legislation is needed to correct that legal situation and repair this VA doctor patient relationship.”