A rare instance of the US House working in unison happened this week in Congress. In two bold moves, both the U.S. House and Senate voted to block the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs(VA) from banning access to medical cannabis.
The federal government rarely budges on issues revolving around medical cannabis. According to the VA, one in five soldiers that is deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan suffers from PTSD.
Thursday, the US House voted 233-189 on a spending bill to allow doctors aligned with the U.S. Department of Affairs to prescribe medical cannabis. The Senate followed shortly after by easily passing its own spending measure, 89-8, which also allows access to medical marijuana. The House bill bars the Obama Administration from interfering with veteran access to cannabis.
Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, presented similar bills to the U.S. House at least two other times, with a little progress each time. The first bill was killed by the House 222-195. Last year, Blumenauer’s effort was narrowly defeated in the House 210-213.The third time is the charm. “We should not be limiting the treatment options available to our veterans,” declared Mr. Blumenauer. Due in large part to Blumenauer’s efforts, 24 US States have already legalized medical cannabis in some form. “From what I hear from veterans is that medical marijuana has helped them deal with pain and PTSD, particularly as an alternative to opioids,” said Blumenauer.
The spending bill allocates $81.6 billion in federal spending that could’ve been used to prevent access to medical cannabis. The money will now be directed into more important issues. Veterans suffering from PTSD would have an alternative to the pharmaceutical nightmare that they’re usually used to. Maureen McCarty is deputy chief of patient care services at the VA. “It’s people that have drug problems, some of which are caused by us and our prescribing,” said McCarthy. “We also look at the combination of patients on opiates, like morphine and benzodiazepine, like Ativan and Klonopin. …That combination is like candy for some people. … [T]hey want it, they want it, they want it.”
“Veterans whose doctors believe that medical marijuana will help them address medical issues such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or chronic pain should be afforded that option,” stated Jared Polis, D-Boulder. U.S. Representative Jared Polis helped author the bill. “I tend to be more open on alternative therapies,” Polis told the Denver Post.
Throughout the entire process, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a major veteran organization in America, has remained neutral. “It is illegal by federal law, but if proven to help sick or disabled veterans, then perhaps the federal government should allow it, provided its effects do not compromise existing treatments or medications prescribed by licensed medical professionals,” said spokesman Joe Davis. “More research needs to be done.”
The bill now heads to Obama’s desk for approval. If passed, the bill would change the lives of veterans who have been demanding access to medical cannabis for years.