Just days after Veterans Day, Reps. Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) are filing three pieces of legislation that seek to cement the VA’s existing administrative policy of protecting patients who discuss their marijuana history, survey veterans on medical cannabis use and assist in education programs focusing on marijuana treatment at medical universities.
“Our veterans are seeking alternative options to opioids and we should be supporting their desires not to be addicted to painkillers,” Moulton said in a press release. “Let’s not kid ourselves, people are using marijuana—including our veterans.”
“We have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible. We also have an obligation to make sure our veterans are getting the best healthcare in the world. We have a long road ahead of us until medicinal cannabis is fully researched and legal but we can take a few steps now to start figuring that out.”
The bills are designed to do as follows, per the press release:
* The Department of Veterans Affairs Policy for Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018. This bill would amend and codify a medicinal cannabis policy the VA has but is not widely disbursed. As more veterans turn to medicinal cannabis to more effectively treat their various service- and non-service related injuries, the relationship with their healthcare providers is becoming ever more important. The VA has a policy protecting a veteran’s benefits if they discuss their medicinal cannabis use with their health care provider; however, not all healthcare providers respond in a standard way and veterans still fear and experience repercussions of some kind. This bill clarifies and codifies patients’ and healthcare providers’ roles and responsibilities in incorporating medicinal cannabis into a patient’s treatment plan and requires the policy to be prominently posted in all VA facilities
* The Department of Veterans Affairs Survey of Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018. This bill would have the VA conduct a nation-wide survey of all veterans and VA healthcare providers to learn about how veterans are using medicinal cannabis. From the American Legion’s survey on medicinal cannabis, “22 percent of veterans stated they are currently using cannabis to treat a medical condition and 40 percent of caregivers stated they know a veteran who is using medical cannabis to alleviate a medical condition.” With the growing use of medicinal cannabis among veterans, the VA needs a better understanding of what veterans are doing to self-medicate various conditions.
* The Department of Veterans Affairs Medicinal Cannabis Education Act of 2018. This bill would partner the VA with medical universities who have incorporated medicinal cannabis education into their curriculum to develop continuing education programs for primary healthcare providers.
“These issues can be a matter of life or death for our nation’s veterans,” NORML political director Justin Strekal said in the press release. “The uncertainty of VA policy when it comes to a veteran’s ability to have an honest conversation with their doctor has a deleterious effect on the doctor-patient relationship and dishonors the promise that America made to those who put on the uniform to protect our nation’s freedoms.”
While it is existing VA policy not to punish veterans or doctors for simply discussing medical cannabis, those protections could be revoked at any time by the secretary of veterans affairs. The new bill would cement the approach into federal lawbooks, although it would still not allow VA doctors to actually issue recommendations for medical marijuana in accordance with state laws.
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