For the first time ever, the federal government just took a step to allow VA doctors to talk to veterans about medical marijuana. Yup. For years doctors in states with full medical marijuana programs were not allowed to talk to patients about all possible treatments, even for treatment of diseases where marijuana is proven to alleviate symptoms like glaucoma.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, this decision is part of an amendment approved by the House of Representatives within the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriation Bill. This new bill will allow doctors and veterans the right to discuss medical marijuana as a medical treatment option in the states in which it is legal.
This is also a pretty big deal because of how bipartisan the support for the amendment was, with 233 Congressman from both parties banding together to get this passed. Whether you support medical marijuana or not, seeing Democrats and Republicans work together is always a delight. The bill and similar amendments have been consistently championed by Democrat Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, but up until now the amendments have failed to pass. Today’s vote was decided 233 to 189, with 57 Republicans joining 171 Democrats to vote in favor of the amendment.
Of course, this is only effective in states that have medical marijuana programs. States and new federal policies like today’s amendment also have to tip-toe around the Controlled Substances Act, which classifies cannabis as a highly addictive drug with no relevant medical purpose, making no distinction between medical and recreational marijuana. As of 2016, state legal medical marijuana cases are not considered high priority in terms of CSA enforcement, but there has yet to be any large-scale legal action to roll back the law’s effects overall.
However, there may soon be major developments in this area. The United States Congress has until the end of 2016 to approve the CARERS Act of 2015. This act already holds bipartisan support (sponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Don Young (R-AK)) and is aimed to alleviate the state vs. federal friction on medical marijuana. That bill would allow state programs to continue without interference from the federal government, remove the “highly addictive” Schedule I classification, and allow legal medical marijuana businesses access to banking services.
And, finally, the CARERS Act would follow in the footsteps of the progress made by today’s amendment, too: it would explicitly allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana as a treatment option in states with medical marijuana programs. If the CARERS Act passes as today’s amendment did, the country may see some major changes in how marijuana cases are handled in the next few years - we will just have to wait and see!