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  • Writer's pictureRandy Shaffer

Lawmakers Submit Bill To Legalize Medical Marijuana For U.S. Veterans

Medical marijuana has been legal in 31 states, as well as Washington D.C., for some time now. Sadly, though, because marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug by the Controlled Substances Act, and therefore illegal under federal law, many potential patients are unable to use their insurance to buy medical marijuana, or visit their certified medical marijuana doctor. This is particularly frustrating for U.S. veterans as their benefits from Veterans Affairs (VA) do not include coverage for medical cannabis.

Though Ohio Marijuana Card offers a helpful discount to veterans, we also believe that any patient who needs medical marijuana should be allowed to obtain it easily, and veterans deserve to be among the first patients in line to receive any kind of insurance benefits. That's why today's news about a bill recently introduced into the Senate is cause for excitement!

The new bill

Democratic Senators Bill Nelson (of Florida) and Brian Schatz (of Hawaii) have introduced legislation that would effectively legalize medical marijuana for veterans, granting them VA access to marijuana doctors, as well as product, throughout the 31 states where cannabis has been legalized for medicinal use. This bill would not legalize marijuana in states that do not have a mmj program.

The bill would also allocate $15 million toward medical marijuana research, including examinations into marijuana for pain, and how marijuana could work to get people off of dangerous opioids.

"Federal law prohibits VA doctors from prescribing or recommending medical marijuana to veterans,” Nelson noted in his public statement. “This legislation will allow veterans in Florida and elsewhere the same access to legitimately prescribed medication, just as any other patient in those 31 states would have.”

The legislation, titled “Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act,” is supported by the American Academy of Pain Medicine, Veterans Cannabis Project, Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, Americans for Safe Access, NORML, Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, Veterans Cannabis Coalition and National Cannabis Industry Association.

How can medical marijuana help veterans?

It is estimated that 20 percent of the 2.7 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will come home suffering from a mild or severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Because the VA cannot properly handle this intense influx of suffering veterans, many seek out alternatives to ease their emotional and physical pain. Sadly, because there’s so little help for these veterans, many wind up addicted to powerful prescription medications that not only threaten their life, but may not even provide the relief they so desperately seek.

And as veterans get older, many also succumb to arthritis, cancers and other painful conditions that greatly diminish their quality of life. Medical marijuana is known to ease or benefit many of these conditions, from topical creams to tinctures.

Ohio has approved 21 qualifying medical conditions for use with medical marijuana, including chronic pain, cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder. Our doctors at Ohio Marijuana Card work with veterans to create an action plan for tackling their medical condition safety and holistically.  

Veteran participation in state marijuana programs does not affect eligibility for VA care and services, either. VA providers can and do discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

​What Ohio veterans should know about medical marijuana

There are a few important notes that veterans need to know about marijuana and the VA:

  • Veterans will not be denied VA benefits because of marijuana use.

  • Veterans are encouraged to discuss marijuana use with their VA providers.

  • VA health care providers will record marijuana use in the Veteran's VA medical record in order to have the information available in treatment planning. As with all clinical information, this is part of the confidential medical record and protected under patient privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations.

  • VA clinicians may not recommend medical marijuana.

  • VA clinicians may not prescribe products containing Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Cannabidiol (CBD), or any other cannabinoids.

  • VA clinicians may not complete paperwork/forms required for Veteran patients to participate in state-approved marijuana programs.

  • VA pharmacies may not fill prescriptions for medical marijuana.

  • VA will not pay for medical marijuana prescriptions from any source.

  • The use or possession of marijuana is prohibited at all VA medical centers, locations and grounds. When you are on VA grounds it is federal law that is in force, not the laws of the state.

  • Veterans who are VA employees are subject to drug testing under the terms of their employment.

Not the only marijuana bill this week

Another bill introduced in the House would allow for more federal licensed grows. These grows would be for conducting research into the health benefits of marijuana. House Republican Matt Gaetz (of Florida) has partnered with 40 bipartisan cosponsors to introduce the "Medical Cannabis Research Act." This bill is slated to be voted on as early as this week (Sep. 9-15, 2018).

The "Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act” and the "Medical Cannabis Research Act" are not the first attempts to grant patients better access to medical marijuana, and more marijuana research in general. At current, many of these bills don't make it out of committee, and those that do are either never voted on, or immediately shot down by the controlling party.

However, if bills such as these continue to crop up, and both sides of the aisle continue to advocate for marijuana legalization, it is only a matter of time until the Senate and House will manage to pass something that could be turned into law. And with 2018 being an election year, things are bound to change in the next few months.

That's why readers like yourself are so important. Advocates like you can contact your local representatives and ask for them to sponsor, or consider sponsoring, pro-marijuana legislation, including these new bills. We've written up a handy resource for contacting your reps. Click here to give it a read.

We'll keep you posted on any updates to these bills, as well as any other medical marijuana news that might be of interest to Ohioans. In the meantime, find out if you qualify for a medical marijuana card in Ohio.

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