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The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bipartisan amendment today, 20 to 10, allowing Veterans Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. The vote is the second time the U.S. Senate has advanced this issue. The amendment did not make the final appropriations bill last year after narrowly losing in the House.

“Veterans should not be denied access to a medicine that can help alleviate their condition, and doctors must be able to discuss and recommend all treatments.” said Michael Collins, deputy director for the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “They have served this country, and shouldn’t be discriminated against.”

The Veterans Equal Access Amendment was sponsored by Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. It was added in committee to a must-pass military construction and veterans affairs spending bill.  The bill is certain to pass on the Senate floor. The same amendment passed last year, as did amendments to protect medical marijuana patients and allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses.

“The Senate is showing that they want to work with veterans to help end the suicide and opioid epidemics,” said TJ Thompson, a disabled Navy veteran. “We now call upon the House to do the same.”

Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) specifically 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 remains in force until The Daines-Merkley 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 the Daines / Merkley 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: April 14, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance