The U.S House passed H.R. 4974 yesterday. The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for 2017 includes an amendment by Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer that would allow VA doctors to discuss the use of medical marijuana with their patients.
In his speech from the floor explaining the amendment, Rep. Blumenauer said veterans are telling him medical marijuana is good for what ails them:
Mr. Chairman, one of the great concerns we have is how the 2 million young Americans who were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan reintegrate back into society. Many of them return with wounds visible and invisible. We find that more than 20 percent of those 2.8 million American veterans suffer from PTSD and depression. A recent survey revealed that suicide rates among veterans are roughly 50 percent higher than among civilians. Another study found that the death rate for opioid overdoses among VA patients is nearly double the national average.
What I hear from veterans that I talk to is that an overwhelming number of them say that medical marijuana has helped them deal with PTSD, pain, and other conditions, particularly as an alternative to opioids, and I would argue that it is essential that veterans be allowed access to this as a treatment if it is legal in their State.
Twenty-four States, the District of Columbia, and Guam have passed laws that provide for legal access to medical marijuana at the recommendation of a physician to treat such conditions, ranging from seizures to glaucoma, anxiety, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury, and the symptoms associated with chemotherapy. Fourteen of these States specifically allow physicians to recommend medical marijuana for the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, PTSD.
As a result of these medical marijuana laws, more than 2 million patients across the country, including many of our veterans, now use medical marijuana. Unfortunately, the Department of Veterans Affairs specifically prohibits its medical providers from completing forms brought by their patients seeking recommendations regarding a veteran’s participation in a State medical marijuana program. What this means is that those patients who want to pursue medical marijuana have to go ahead and hire a physician out of their own pocket, not dealing with the medical professional of their choice, the medical professional, their VA doctor, who knows them the best. I think that is unfortunate.
I have an amendment cosponsored by Dr. Joe Heck, Sam Farr, Dana Rohrabacher, Dina Titus, Tom Reed, and others that would prohibit funds from being made available to the VA to implement this prohibition. I think it is the right thing to do for our veterans, to be able to treat them equitably, to enable them to have access to the doctor who knows them the best, giving them better treatment, and saving them money. I would respectfully request that we approve this amendment to eliminate this unjustified prohibition [Rep. Earl Blumenauer, remarks, U.S. House, 2016.05.19].
South Dakota Representative Kristi Noem voted against the Blumenauer amendment, but 57 of her Republican colleagues joined 176 Democrats to pass it. Rep. Noem then voted for passage of the final bill.
South Dakota is not among the 24 states where veterans could take their doctors’ advice to use medical marijuana. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs is expected to rule within days on whether she will reverse her February decision to reject a petition to put medical marijuana to a statewide vote in November.