Bipartisan Efforts to Provide Medical Marijuana Access for Veterans Gain Momentum

Veterans groups are hopeful about the new bilateral effort to advance medical marijuana access for veterans.

Congressional lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are renewing their efforts to protect military veterans who use medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Additionally, they aim to safeguard doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) who issue recommendations for veterans to participate in state medical marijuana programs. Two identical amendments have been filed for the Fiscal Year 2024 spending bill covering Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (MilCon/VA), with each version sponsored by different sets of lawmakers.

The first amendment is supported by the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, namely Representatives Brian Mast (R-FL), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dave Joyce (R-FL), and Barbara Lee (D-CA). The second amendment is sponsored by Representatives Greg Steube (R-FL), Nancy Mace (R-SC), and Dina Titus (D-NV). The proposed amendments seek to prevent the VA from using funds to impede state-approved programs that provide medical marijuana access for veterans. Additionally, the department would be prohibited from denying services to veterans who are enrolled in such programs or interfering with healthcare providers’ ability to make appropriate recommendations or comply with state programs.

The importance of these amendments cannot be overstated, as they strive to ensure equal access to state-legal medical programs offering medical marijuana access for veterans. Representative Blumenauer emphasized that many veterans have attested to the life-changing impact of medical marijuana, making the passage of these amendments long overdue. However, it remains unclear why two separate groups of lawmakers submitted identical versions of the amendment. The proposed measures will need to be considered by the House Rules Committee before they can be brought to the floor for further discussion.

The fate of these amendments remains uncertain, especially in light of the recent blocking of numerous cannabis and psychedelics amendments filed for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by the House Rules Committee. Among the amendments that failed to progress were those introduced by the Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs, which sought to enable VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis to veterans residing in states with legalized therapeutic marijuana.

In parallel, Democratic senators are working to advance a series of marijuana reform amendments through their version of the NDAA. One of the proposals, led by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), aims to permit veterans to use medical cannabis in states and territories where it is legal, echoing a standalone bill introduced by the senator earlier this year. The proposal further seeks to protect doctors who discuss and provide paperwork for veterans’ medical marijuana recommendations. Additionally, it calls on the VA to support clinical trials investigating the therapeutic effects of cannabis for conditions commonly affecting veterans, such as pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The inclusion of these amendments in the final bill is contingent upon reaching a consensus between Senate Democrats and Republicans. It is also uncertain whether the Republican-controlled House would be receptive to these amendments if they are attached on the Senate side. Notably, a recent study revealed that over 90 percent of U.S. military veterans who use medical marijuana believe it improves their quality of life, with many relying on cannabis as an alternative to over-the-counter and prescription medications.

In related news, the Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved an amendment allowing VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations. Furthermore, the committee released a report accompanying the relevant spending bill, urging the VA to facilitate medical marijuana access for veterans and explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. House and Senate appropriators have also given their approval to comprehensive annual spending bills that include language safeguarding state medical cannabis programs, including those which provide medical marijuana access for veterans.

Additionally, these bills contain a controversial provision to block the implementation of regulated marijuana sales in Washington, D.C.