U.S. Congress Clashes With Veterans Affairs Bureau Over Medical Cannabis
Some want VA doctors to recommend and prescribe the plant; the VA disagrees.
If the U.S. government has done one thing consistently over the years with cannabis reform, it's fight fellow bureaucrats over medical marijuana. Just hours after the federal Department of Veterans Affairs released an article condemning the plant as a remedy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on Wednesday, a Senate committee passed through a budget proposal that would expand medical marijuana access for veterans.
In layman's terms, the Democrat-controlled Senate wants VA doctors to be able to recommend and perhaps prescribe the plant. The VA is saying cannabis would make ill veterans even worse off than before.
"Research to date does not support cannabis as an effective PTSD treatment," said the VA report, authored by four of the department's doctors. "And some studies suggest cannabis can be harmful, particularly when used for long periods of time."
Looking for relief
But U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, begs to differ. Merkley and the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved an amendment to the VA budget for 2022 which inserted language prohibiting the bureau from interfering with or denying service to veterans involved in a state-legal medical cannabis program.
"We have now 36 states with medical cannabis, and our veterans want to know from their VA doctor what their thoughts are on the pros and cons are for treating a variety of issues, including PTSD," Merkley said.
According to the VA report, over 20 percent of U.S. military veterans aged 18 to 44 and 11.9 percent of all vets used the plant in 2020. That's up from just 9 percent in 2014. Merkley noted that the numbers are likely understated because respondents may fear losing their military benefits if identified as users of a federally banned substance.
Federal law called for such sanctions as recently as 2018. And while authorities are no longer supposed to revoke military benefits for medical marijuana users, Merkley said longstanding fear among veterans caught using the plant could remain.
Congressional support for veteran access to medical marijuana over the years has been largely bipartisan. The House has approved legislation to allow VA doctors to issue medical marijuana recommendations to patients on at least four different occasions. But the measure has yet to become law. The 2022 budget passed out of committee on Wednesday must still be approved by the full Senate and House of Representatives before reaching President Joe Biden's desk.