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Veterans

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director November 14, 2018

    Just two days after Veteran’s Day, Congressman Seth Moulton has introduced a series of bills aimed at addressing the therapeutic use of marijuana among veterans.

    Post-traumatic stress, chronic pain, and other medical issues can be a matter of life or death. Moreover, failure of VA policy to allow physicians to openly talk about cannabis or recommend it has a deleterious effect on the doctor-patient relationship and on the well-being of our veterans.

    While Rep. Moulton’s bills do not address the core issue of the inability for VA doctors to fill out state-legal medical marijuana recommendations it does address the uncertainty of VA policy when it comes to a veteran’s ability to have an honest conversation with their doctor.

    The three bills are as follows:

    The Department of Veterans Affairs Policy for Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018. This bill would amend and codify a medicinal cannabis policy the VA has but is not widely disbursed. As more veterans turn to medicinal cannabis to more effectively treat their various service- and non-service related injuries, the relationship with their healthcare providers is becoming ever more important. The VA has a policy protecting a veteran’s benefits if they discuss their medicinal cannabis use with their health care provider; however, not all healthcare providers respond in a standard way and veterans still fear and experience repercussions of some kind. This bill clarifies and codifies patients’ and healthcare providers’ roles and responsibilities in incorporating medicinal cannabis into a patient’s treatment plan and requires the policy to be prominently posted in all VA facilities.

    The Department of Veterans Affairs Survey of Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018. This bill would have the VA conduct a nation-wide survey of all veterans and VA healthcare providers to learn about how veterans are using medicinal cannabis. From the American Legion’s survey on medicinal cannabis, “22 percent of veterans stated they are currently using cannabis to treat a medical condition and 40 percent of caregivers stated they know a veteran who is using medical cannabis to alleviate a medical condition.” With the growing use of medicinal cannabis among veterans, the VA needs a better understanding of what veterans are doing to self-medicate various conditions.

    The Department of Veterans Affairs Medicinal Cannabis Education Act of 2018. This bill would partner the VA with medical universities who have incorporated medicinal cannabis education into their curriculum to develop continuing education programs for primary healthcare providers.

    Upon introduction, Rep Moulton said “Our veterans are seeking alternative options to opioids and we should be supporting their desires not to be addicted to painkillers. Let’s not kid ourselves, people are using marijuana – including our veterans. We have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible. We also have an obligation to make sure our veterans are getting the best healthcare in the world. We have a long road ahead of us until medicinal cannabis is fully researched and legal but we can take a few steps now to start figuring that out. As someone who still receives healthcare from the VA, I see no reason why veterans healthcare should be behind the eight ball. These bills are an important first step towards finding out what can be most successful as treatment options evolve and change.”

    While these bills would make commendable advances if passed by Congress, they fail to include the fix most needed of VA policy, which would be to allow VA doctors to fill out the necessary state-legal medical marijuana recommendation form in the 33 states that now have laws governing the therapeutic use of cannabis.

    There are two pieces of legislation currently pending which would address that currently pending in the House and Senate. They are The Veterans Equal Access Act in the House carried by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act in the Senate carried by Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Brian Schatz (D-HI).

    You can contact your federal lawmakers in support of medicinal cannabis policy reform to support veterans by clicking here.

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director September 11, 2018

    Lawmakers have removed language from pending federal legislation that sought to facilitate veterans’ access to medical cannabis in jurisdictions that regulate it.

    The decision to strip out the Veterans Equal Access Amendment flies in the face of the horrific medical realities that our nation’s heroes who are desperate to mitigate. This move thwarts the will of the majority of Americans who support medical marijuana and 81% of veterans who believe that the federal government should protect its therapeutic access. Further, by not creating protections for veterans, the Congress continues to view 22% of those who have worn the uniform as criminals.

    Under existing federal regulations, physicians affiliated with the US Department of Veterans Affairs are prohibited from filling out the necessary paperwork required in legal medical marijuana states. A budgetary amendment included in the Senate’s version the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill sought to end this prohibition. However, Congressional leaders this week elected to eliminate the provision during hearings to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill.

    Congressman Earl Blumenauer, the author of similar legislative language now pending in the House of Representatives, said “Denying veterans the care they need by the doctors they trust is shameful. The Senate passed this amendment. It has broad bipartisan support in the House. This should have been a no brainer. Yet, Republican leadership has once again stymied progress toward fair and equal treatment for our veterans. Their continued neglect of commonsense and the will of the American people is a disgrace.”

    Veteran and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said, “Our veterans put their lives on the line for our country, and many come home dealing with visible and invisible wounds. To continue limiting their access to quality healthcare through the VA is a disservice to them and the sacrifices they’ve made.”

    The Veterans Cannabis Coalition released a statement saying “Every day that cannabis prohibition continues is a day a veteran dies unnecessarily. The Republican conferees on the House Appropriations Committee and House Republican leadership should be ashamed of this backroom deal that stripped the Veterans Equal Access amendment from this year’s MILCON-VA appropriations bill. This decision of Republican leaders flies in the face of science, compassion, and overwhelming public support. The Republican conference has steadfastly voted to send millions of other people’s sons and daughters to fight in endless wars while fighting tooth-and-nail to prevent the study of something that provides relief and healing to those injured in military service. Leadership can’t claim to care about veterans health and well-being while refusing to even discuss cannabis. Enough hypocrisy. We call on House Republicans to listen to the literally tens of thousands of veterans who have benefited from cannabis access, negotiate in good faith, and allow votes to take place.”

    “This move by Congressional leadership is egregious and constitutes a slap in the face to the heroes who put their lives on the line to defend our country,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri. “Continuing to treat veterans who risked it all as criminals when they opt to utilize a safe and effective treatment option like cannabis is immoral and un-American.”

    Similar language was included by both chambers in the 2016 version of the funding bill, but was similarly stripped from the text in conference committee.

    Last week, Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) for the first time introduced stand-alone Senate legislation to expand medical cannabis access to military veterans. A recent American Legion poll found that nearly one in four veterans use marijuana to alleviate a medical condition.

  • by NORML September 5, 2018

    Washington, DC: Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced legislation, The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, to expand and facilitate medical cannabis access to military veterans suffering from chronic pain, PTSD, and other serious medical conditions.

    Under existing regulations, VA doctors are not permitted to fill out the mandatory paperwork necessary to recommend cannabis therapy in those 31 states that regulate it. Passage of The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act ends this discrimination against veterans and prevents sanctions against VA doctors who wish to recommend medical cannabis treatment to their patients.

    Send a message in support of expanding access NOW!

    “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. 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,” said Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director. “We applaud and appreciate the leadership by Senators Schatz and Nelson in putting forward this legislation.”

    “Historically, veteran and military communities have long been at the forefront of American social change, catalyzing the widespread acceptance of evolving cultural norms and perceptions surrounding racial, gender, and sexual equality. The therapeutic use of cannabis by veterans follows this trend and members of Congress should follow their lead and pass the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act,” Strekal concluded.

    “Federal law prohibits VA doctors from prescribing or recommending medical marijuana to veterans,” said Senator Bill Nelson. “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.”

    “In the 31 states where medical marijuana is legal, patients and doctors are able to see if marijuana helps with pain management. Our veterans deserve to have that same chance,” Senator Schatz said. “This bill does right by our veterans, and it can also shed light on how medical marijuana can help with the nation’s opioid epidemic.”

    You can read NORML’s Fact Sheet on Marijuana and Veterans Issues HERE.

    A recent American Legion poll found that nearly one in four veterans use marijuana to alleviate a medical condition. A 2017 review of over 10,000 studies by the National Academy of Sciences concluded, “There is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis and cannabinoids are effective for the treatment for chronic pain in adults.”

    Similar legislation, The Veterans Equal Access Act (HR 1820) is pending in the House.

    Send a message in support of expanding access NOW!

  • by NORML August 8, 2018

    Today, Congressman Charlie Crist held a press conference to announce the introduction of the Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act, HR 6589.

    The bipartisan bill would explicitly bar federal agencies from discriminating against workers solely because of their status as a cannabis consumer, or due to testing positive for marijuana use on a workplace drug test.

    Send a message to your Representative in support of this bill now!

    “Medical marijuana is an issue of compassion, and in the veterans’ community, access is even more important as more and more veterans are turning to cannabis to address chronic pain and PTSD. At the same time, the federal government is the largest employer of veterans; however, private cannabis use even in states that have legalized medical marijuana is prohibited in these positions,” said Congressman Charlie Crist (D-FL). “Our bipartisan bill would protect federal employment for those in compliance with their state’s cannabis laws. Because our veterans shouldn’t have to choose between treatment options or job opportunities.”

    “The time for the federal government to end the practice of arbitrarily discriminating against current and potential workers for marijuana consumption is now,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “With 47 states having reformed their cannabis laws to be in direct conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act, individuals acting in compliance with state law should not be denied the opportunity to serve their country as public servants.”

    Enacted in 1986, the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program made it a condition for employment that all civilian employees at executive branch agencies be prohibited from using federally illegal substances on or off duty. Medical marijuana is currently legal in 31 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam, and 46 states have some form of medical marijuana law; however, it remains illegal under federal law. Therefore, federal employees can be denied employment or terminated due to testing positive for marijuana metabolites, even if their use is in compliance with state law. This conflict between state and federal laws limits treatment options and federal employment opportunities, particularly impacting veterans who comprise approximately one-third of the federal workforce and whose medical cannabis use to treat chronic pain and PTSD has been found to be double the rate of the general public. A recent American Legion poll found that one in five veterans use marijuana to alleviate a medical condition.

    Changes in the legal status of marijuana at the state level have not negatively impacted workplace safety. In fact, a pair of studies from 2016 find that the legalization of medical marijuana access is associated with greater workforce participation and with fewer workplace absences. Most recently, the National Academies of Sciences just-released marijuana and health report found “insufficient evidence” to support an association between cannabis use and occupational accidents or injuries.

    In 2018, legislative efforts to reform employment laws were either attempted or successful in California, Florida, New Jersey, and Wisconsin, among others.

    Send a message to your Congressperson now and urge them to cosponsor the bill!

    Bill Overview:

    •   The Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act prohibits marijuana metabolite testing from being used as the sole factor to deny or terminate federal employment for civilian positions at executive branch agencies if the individual is in compliance with the marijuana laws in their state of residence.
    •   The bill only extends to an individual’s past, private use of cannabis, and does not prohibit probable cause testing if an individual is believed to be impaired at work.
    •   The bill does not apply to individuals occupying or seeking a position requiring a top-secret clearance.
  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director June 7, 2018

    …for the second year in a row.

    The House Rules Committee, led by prohibitionist Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX), blocked multiple amendments related to marijuana from receiving consideration by the full House, thus ending their consideration and silencing the ability for the lower chamber to offer either legal protections or expanded access to veterans who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes.

    Among the amendments offered, the most critical one is known as Veterans Equal Access, which would allow VA doctors to fill out the authorizing forms needed for veterans to obtain state-legal medical marijuana. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), author of the amendment and legislation by the same name, stated “For the second year, Pete Sessions has shown that he does not care about the health and well-being of our veterans—who are speaking out across the country. All they want is fair and equal treatment, and the ability to consult with their own physician on all treatment options. By blocking this vote, Chairman Sessions has turned his back on our wounded warriors, commonsense, and the will of the American people. He should be ashamed.”


    Another amendment pertaining to veterans who work for the Veterans Affairs Department would have provided protections to veterans consume marijuana legally under state statute from losing their job as a result of a positive suspicionless drug test. This amendment was authored by Congressman Charlie Crist (D-FL).

    For context, last year the American Legion conducted a poll that found one in five veterans self-reported using marijuana to alleviate a medical or physical condition. It is cruel and unreasonable to have veterans live in fear of having to choose between their job and their medication.

    The Senate Appropriations Committee heard the Veterans Equal Access language introduced by Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) and passed as a voice vote. Unfortunately, it has a history of passing and then being stripped out of the final version over the last few years.

    You can send a message to your Representative in support of the Veterans Equal Access Act, HR 1820, by clicking here. 

    On July 22nd – 24th, NORML will hold it’s annual Conference and Lobby Day in DC and will focus on the need to not allow our progress to be rolled back – if you can join us in DC, click here to register.

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