The US House of Representatives has voted to allow Veterans Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where the treatment is legal. The Veterans Equal Access Amendment strikes down an existing ban on Department of Veterans Affairs doctors recommending medical marijuana use for military veterans experiencing pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions.
In the past, veterans seeking medical marijuana have had to look for doctors outside the military health system and pay out of their own pockets for expenses affiliated to treatment by the decriminalised drug, which has currently been made legal in 24 states in the US.
"I have been deeply troubled about our inability to adequately deal with our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan," said Oregon Democrat, Eric Blumenauer, who co-sponsored the amendment and pointed to the high rates of opioid abuse and suicide among veterans.
"A lot of them are suffering from PTSD, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury, and these are all conditions that have been shown to respond to medical marijuana," he told the Huffington Post. "The notion that the VA would not allow its doctors to consult with and work with veterans regarding medical marijuana in states where it's legal I thought was outrageous."
The House passed the amendment, which was attached to the 2017 military appropriations bill, in a 233-to-189 vote. Later the Senate passed a spending bill that included similar language on medical marijuana. Pending final passage of the spending bill and approval by President Obama, the regulation would go into effect next year.
Marijuana advocacy groups have since hailed the action. Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, said in a statement: "It's looking like this could finally be the year the federal government stops making veterans jump through costly, time-consuming hoops just to get legal access to medical marijuana.
"There's absolutely no reason the Veterans Administration should be preventing its doctors from helping veterans who served our country find relief with medical marijuana."