Two House lawmakers on Thursday refiled bipartisan legislation to provide military veterans access to medical marijuana. The bill, the Veterans Equal Access Act, was reintroduced in the House by Representative Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, and Florida Republican Representative Brian Mast, who lost both legs while serving in the Army in Afghanistan.

“I woke up in a situation where I was probably on 20 different narcotics of various kinds. I was, I had Dilaudid drip, I had oral morphines and [oxycodones] and an epidural,” Mast told Spectrum News. “I had anti-inflammatories, heavy sleep sedatives, antidepressant stuff that I never been on or even thought about, or you could even say the names of before in my life.”

If passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, the Veterans Equal Access Act would permit doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare facilities to issue recommendations for state-legal medical cannabis. Under current regulations, VA doctors are not allowed to complete the paperwork necessary for military veterans to use medical marijuana in states that have legalized the medicinal use of cannabis. 

“We lose almost two dozen veterans a day taking their own life,” said Blumenauer. “We’ve seen a situation where, sadly, the VA, which is not on board, [with] giving access to medical marijuana, was handing out opioids like Tic Tacs. I think there’s some changes that are taking place. I’ve had conversations with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, but this is a long overdue step.”

The Veterans Equal Access Act has been introduced in Congress with bipartisan support several times over recent years, and the legislation has gained approval at the committee level. But so far, backers of the bill have been unable to get the measure passed. 

“Today was a monumental day for our veterans. We have been working for years to reform this counterproductive policy that forces veterans outside of the VA to receive legal medical cannabis treatment for chronic pain and PTSD,” Blumenauer said when the bill was approved by the House Veterans Affairs Committee in March 2020. “This is the culmination of the tremendous work of our movement, but we will not be finished until this becomes the law of the land. We must reform our federal cannabis policy.”

Bill Has Broad Bipartisan Support

Blumenauer said that the VA does not support the legislation to give veterans access to medical cannabis. But veterans groups including AMVETS and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) are backing the bill.

“Some veterans across the country are hesitant to even use VA health care because they’re concerned about having to discuss the cannabis products they’re legally putting in their bodies with VA doctors,” said Brittany Dymond, an associate director with the VFW.

The Veterans Equal Access Act is also supported by cannabis policy reform groups including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and the Drug Policy Alliance, as well as representatives of the regulated cannabis industry. Saphira Galoob, the executive director of the National Cannabis Roundtable, said that the bill will open up new treatment options to veterans in states that have legalized medical marijuana.

“It is unconscionable to deny our veterans equal access to the full array of medical treatments and options that all other adults in the 37 states with medical cannabis programs have available,” Galoob said in a statement from the cannabis industry trade group. “VA doctors must be allowed to discuss medical cannabis and provide recommendations on state-legal programs to the veterans they serve, and we thank Congressman Blumenauer and Congressman Mast for their dedication to moving this important measure forward in the 118th Congress. NCR was honored to be present for today’s announcement, and to support this much-needed, bipartisan bill.”

The Veterans Equal Access Act was referred to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, where it awaits further consideration. The full text of the bill is available online.

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