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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House passed a bipartisan amendment today, 233 to 189, allowing Veterans Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. The vote already passed the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, but narrowly failed in the House last year. The amendment will likely now make the final spending bill.

“We are delighted to lift this outdated, discriminatory policy, which has negatively impacted the lives of so many veterans.” said Michael Collins, deputy director for the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “We need all options on the table to treat veterans, and finally Congress has seen sense and will allow veterans to be on an equal footing to other residents of medical marijuana states.”

The Veterans Equal Access Amendment was led by Rep.  Earl Blumenauer, who has championed this issue for years. It was also cosponsored by a bipartisan group including Reps. Heck (R-NV), Farr (D-CA), Rohrabacher (R-CA), Reed (R-NY), Titus (D-NV), Lee (D-CA), Gallego (D-AZ) and Polis (D-CO). It was added on the floor to a must-pass Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill.  The same amendment narrowly failed last year, losing by 3 votes. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed this amendment in April of this year, 20 votes to 10.

“Today is a monumental day for us vets,” said TJ Thompson, a disabled U.S. Navy Veteran (’98-’04) who lives in Virginia. “Congress has recognized our right to heal, allowing us access to medical cannabis within the VA.”

Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) prohibits its medical providers from completing forms brought by their patients seeking recommendations or opinions regarding participation in a state medical marijuana program. The directive expired in January 2016, but would remain in force absent Congressional action. The Blumenauer amendment authorizes VA physicians and other health care providers to provide recommendations and opinions regarding the use of medical marijuana to veterans who live in medical marijuana states.

A legislative version of this amendment was included in groundbreaking Senate medical marijuana legislation introduced in March 2015. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act is the first-ever bill in the U.S. Senate to legalize marijuana for medical use and the most comprehensive medical marijuana bill ever introduced in Congress. The bill was introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and generated enormous interest.

Date Published: May 19, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance