Despite the growing body of research confirming the efficacy of cannabis as a treatment for PTSD, chronic pain, and other ailments often suffered by veterans of this country's wars, the Department of Veterans Affairs has doubled down on its commitment to block veterans from using medical cannabis. Ever since states began legalizing medical cannabis programs, VA officials have prohibited government physicians from assisting veterans in qualifying for these programs.
The department updated their website this week to make their anti-cannabis stance even more clear. “Veterans should know that federal law classifies marijuana – including all derivative products – as a Schedule One controlled substance. This makes it illegal in the eyes of the federal government,” the site now reads. “The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is required to follow all federal laws including those regarding marijuana. As long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as Schedule One VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist Veterans to obtain it.”
The newly updated language is not exactly correct, as there is no specific law that prevents VA doctors from recommending cannabis. The original version of the site stated that “VA clinicians may not prescribe medical marijuana,” but the new version states that the doctors “may not recommend” the drug. The original version is also more accurate, as federal law does prohibit a physician from prescribing cannabis. The decision not to allow physicians to recommend cannabis is purely an issue of departmental policy, and could be reversed without breaking any federal laws.
“This new language is very disturbing, but sadly, comes to no surprise. For years, the VA has been throwing up serious barriers to veterans’ safe access to cannabis,” Congressman Earl Blumenauer said of the updated website. “Yet, it’s had no problem prescribing them highly addictive opioids that have killed thousands. It makes no sense. Our veterans deserve better. They deserve equal treatment from the VA doctors who know them best.”
The VA website also warns veterans that “the use or possession of marijuana is prohibited at all VA medical centers, locations and grounds” and that “when you are on VA grounds it is federal law that is in force, not the laws of the state.” Fortunately for veterans, the department does state that
“veteran participation in State medical marijuana program does not affect eligibility for VA care and services.”
A bipartisan group of Congresspeople has been trying for several years to pass legislation that would force the VA to allow their doctors to recommend medical cannabis. These attempts have been blocked in committees every year, but a rider that would prevent the department from spending money to enforce its cannabis ban is currently included in the Senate version of the 2018 budget. The American Legion has also called for the VA department to change its stance on medical cannabis.