New Legislation Could Increase Veteran Access to Medical Marijuana

September 5, 2018, 8:30 PM UTC

A new bill introduced to Congress Wednesday could give veterans easier access to medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, introduced by Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Brian Schatz (D-HI), would allow Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to prescribe the drug to ease pain or symptoms of PTSD.

“Federal law prohibits VA doctors from prescribing or recommending medical marijuana to veterans,” said Nelson in a statement. “This legislation will allow veterans in Florida and elsewhere the same access to legitimately prescribed medication, just as any other patient in those 31 states would have.”

Marijuana remains illegal by federal standards, but individual states have been easing restrictions on the drug in recent years. As of June of this year, marijuana is medically legal in 30 states and Washington D.C.

Advocates of legalization hope that allowing VA doctors to prescribe marijuana will ease veterans’ use of harmful and addictive opioids. According to the bill, “states with medical cannabis laws have a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.”

The legislation also allocates $15 million for research on the affects of marijuana on veterans in pain and veteran usage of state medical marijuana programs.

Justin Strekal, the political director of NORML, a marijuana advocacy group, released a statement supporting the senators’ legislation.

“The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would provide crucial medical and civil protections for the men and women who put their lives on the line to serve this country,” said Strekal. “It is unconscionable that these brave individuals who protect our nation’s freedoms would be treated as criminals when they return home just for treating their medical ailments with a safe and effective option.”

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