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U.S. Senate Introduces Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana for Military Vets

Spearheaded by Senators Brian Nelson and Bill Schatz, the Veterans Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would allow VA physicians to recommend cannabis in-line with individual state laws.

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A new bill filed in the U.S. Senate could finally knock down the federal barriers standing between military veterans and access to state-legal medical marijuana. 

According to Forbes, Senators Brian Nelson (D-FL) and Bill Schatz (D-HI) filed legislation titled the Veterans Marijuana Safe Harbor Act on Wednesday, with hopes to “expand and facilitate medical cannabis access to military veterans suffering from chronic pain, PTSD, and other serious medical conditions.”

If passed, the legislation would empower Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to sign recommendations for medical marijuana, and allocate $15 million for VA research focused on cannabis treatment.

“This legislation will allow veterans in Florida and elsewhere the same access to legitimately prescribed medication, just as any other patient in those 31 states would have,” Senator Nelson said in a press release.

Currently, federal law prohibits VA physicians from even discussing medicinal pot with patients, regardless if the plant is legal under local law or not. Instead, veterans are often prescribed dangerous opioid painkillers without a second thought.

"In 2011, veterans were twice as likely to die from accidental opioid overdoses as non veterans,” the legislation details. “Marijuana and its compounds show promise for treating a wide-range of diseases and disorders, including pain management. Medical marijuana in states where it is legal may serve as a less harmful alternative to opioids in treating veterans."

For years, veterans groups, cannabis activists, and sympathetic lawmakers have called for the inclusion of medical marijuana in VA treatment, offering piles of anecdotal evidence for marijuana’s miraculous ability to help returning soldiers get readjusted to life as civilians. 

“[Medical marijuana] does so much more than just numb the pain,” Sean Kiernan, the president of the cannabis-focused veterans group Weed for Warriors, told MERRY JANE last year. “What cannabis also does is distracts. It’s this combination, this wonder drug. We talk about whole-plant therapy, and why it’s so important. It’s the entourage effect: CBN can put you to sleep, THC can give you euphoria, CBD is anti-inflammatory. With the entourage effect, it can replace 28 to 30 pills. There’s so many subparts to the plant. It’s nature’s medicine, used in so many cultures, and our government can’t seem to acknowledge it.”

As recently as last month, federal legislators have pushed to end VA roadblocks and grant veterans access to state-legal medical cannabis, but those attempts have, up to this point, been rejected at every turn.

It is not yet clear if the latest attempt at securing medical marijuana access for veteran will be met with similar legislative ignorance, but the nation’s leading cannabis advocates have wasted no time, and are already putting their support behind the Senate bill.

“Historically, veteran and military communities have long been at the forefront of American social change, catalyzing the widespread acceptance of evolving cultural norms and perceptions surrounding racial, gender, and sexual equality,” Justin Strekal, Political Director at NORML, said in a press release. “The therapeutic use of cannabis by veterans follows this trend and members of Congress should follow their lead and pass the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.”

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