In states that allow it, veterans are a major step closer to being able to obtain medical marijuana.
On Thursday, both chambers of Congress approved measures prohibiting the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from enforcing a policy prohibiting government doctors from prescribing medical marijuana to veterans. That essentially means doctors will now be able to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in the 24 states (plus D.C.) where it’s legal.
The measure came close to passing last year, but ended up failing 213-210 in the House. This year, it was approved 233-189 in that chamber, and by an 89-8 margin in the Senate.
Tom Angell, a longtime marijuana reform activist and chairman of Marijuana Majority, said the measure is important because it will allow some veterans to avoid taking opiates.
“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,” Angell said in a statement sent to ThinkProgress. “Cannabis has shown great promise in helping veterans deal with PTSD and treat chronic pain, and it’s an increasingly attractive alternative to opioids. There’s absolutely no reason the V.A. should be preventing its doctors from helping veterans who served our country find relief with medical marijuana.”
Indeed, last fall ThinkProgress spoke to a veteran who credited switching from Hydrocodone to cannabis with improving his quality of life.
David Bass, a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Army, said the medical marijuana he was obtaining from the black market was, for him, “a safer alternative” to the pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by his VA doctor to treat his chronic pain and PTSD.
The medical marijuana measure approved by Congress now heads to President Obama. Though the Obama administration has a mixed record on marijuana policy, Angell is confident the president won’t veto the broader appropriations package containing the medical marijuana measure.
“First, medical marijuana is supported by a supermajority of American voters, as shown by poll after poll,” Angell wrote in an email. “Indeed, medical cannabis is way, way more popular with voters than Congress or the president are. Second, these provisions are attached to must-pass funding bills that keep the Department of Veterans Affairs and other crucial government agencies operating through the end of Fiscal year 2017.”
Aaron Rupar comes to ThinkProgress from Minnesota, where he was established as a staff writer for the Minneapolis City Pages covering everything from crime to state politics to cultural news and back again. He also worked as a digital producer for the Twin Cities Fox TV affiliate and as a communications staffer for the Democratic caucus in the Minnesota House of Representatives.