By Aaron Kesel
Yesterday, Republican lawmakers blocked a bipartisan proposal designed to allow Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana as a substitute to big pharma’s opioids where the drug is legal for veterans.
The House Committee stopped the “Veterans Equal Access” amendment from moving to debate on the House floor by keeping the measure out of the VA funding bill for next year.
One of the sponsors of the bill, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore), said in a statement he was “bitterly disappointed” on the failure to amend the proposed legislation. Confused about its failure despite bipartisan support of 9 Democrats and 9 Republicans Blumenauer said “somehow the 13 member House Rules Committee decided it wasn’t going to allow this amendment.”
“This is a subject that has gained a great deal more attention and momentum,” Blumenauer told McClatchy. “More people recognize that the VA has really failed our veterans when it has come to pain management, opioids, and opioid dependency.”
The move was a blow to advocates of medical pot who have been trying to get the measure through a divided Congress and lowers the chances that a law might be passed this year.
This isn’t the first time the bill was halted by Republicans. Blumenauer introduced the same amendment in 2016 which passed the House by a 233-189 vote. While it’s similar measure in the Senate also passed overwhelmingly with the support of 89-8 votes in favor of the bill. Yet the amendment eventually disappeared from the final version of the larger appropriations bill.
“It’s outrageous that it was removed” from the annual VA budget bill, Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Sen. Jeff Merkley, both Oregon Democrats, said in a joint statement last year. “To add insult to injury, the legislation was released in the middle of the night, not even giving members of the House an opportunity to review the language before voting on it.”
However, hope is not lost; the Senate’s fiscal 2018 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill contains a similar provision, so the fight isn’t over yet. And the congressman, founder of the “Congressional Cannabis Caucus,” is hoping for a different outcome this year.
“This isn’t going away. I think there’s an outstanding chance it happens this Congress, as veterans become more and more outspoken about why they shouldn’t be treated like second class citizens,” he said.
Although medical marijuana is legal in 29 states plus the District of Columbia, it’s still considered to be a Schedule 1 drug and VA doctors can’t legally prescribe it to patients.
Medical marijuana is used as a treatment of glaucoma, cancer, HIV and other health conditions. Veterans are also looking at it to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, which might affect about 20 percent of the 1.8 million service members who were deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the National Center for PTSD.
In late May, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin admitted that medical marijuana could help veterans.
“There may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful and we’re interested in looking at that and learning from that,” Shulkin told reporters, pointing to states where medical pot is legal.
— American Legion DC (@LegioninDC) May 31, 2017
Veterans groups like the American Legion, Weed for Warriors and the Veterans Cannabis Project have been pressuring lawmakers and the VA to rethink its marijuana policies.