Congress kills language in VA funding bill to expand marijuana to veterans

Matt Saintsing
September 11, 2018 - 1:40 pm

Photo by William Archie, Detroit Free Press

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Congressional leadership negotiating the specifics for VA funding legislation pulled a Senate-approved measure that would have expanded veterans’ access to medical marijuana in the 31 states that allow it.

Under current regulations, VA doctors are barred from recommending cannabis to veterans, but a budgetary amendment included in the Senate’s VA appropriations bill sought to end that ban. The bill was overwhelmingly approved in the Senate with an 85-to-5 vote in June. 

Congressional leaders, however, chose to scrap the measure in hearings to resolve the House and Senate versions of the bill, which must be identical before it heads to the president’s desk.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the author of a similar provision now pending in the House, blasted the Congressional leadership decision. 

“Denying veterans the care they need by the doctors they trust is shameful,” he said. “The Senate passed this amendment. It has broad bipartisan support in the House. This should have been a no-brainer.” 

He continued, “Yet, Republican leadership has once again stymied progress toward fair and equal treatment for our veterans. Their continued neglect of common sense and the will of the American people is a disgrace.” 

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), an Army veteran who seeks to end federal marijuana prohibition, said, “Our veterans put their lives on the line for our country, and many come home dealing with visible and invisible wounds.” 

“To continue limiting their access to quality health care through the VA is a disservice to them and the sacrifices they’ve made."

While maddening to veterans and legalization advocates alike, this isn’t the first time cannabis reformers have been left at the altar. A similar provision made its way into the House and Senate versions of the 2016 funding bill, but that language was stripped from the bill behind closed doors in conference. 

“This move by Congressional leadership is egregious and constitutes a slap in the face to the heroes who put their lives on the line to defend our country,” said Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). 

“Continuing to treat veterans who risked it all as criminals when they opt to utilize a safe and effective treatment option like cannabis is immoral and un-American.” 

This latest affront to would-be marijuana reformers comes a week after Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) introduced stand-alone Senate legislation for the first time to expand medical marijuana to veterans

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