Federal and state legislation often clashes in terms of acceptable usage of cannabis for medical and recreational use.
This uncertainty also has moved into the veteran community, where those who served and now want to indulge for fun or for their health are unsure whether they can light up.
Many veterans have turned to marijuana to relieve symptoms of PTSD and other service-connected medical issues, including certain types anxiety and inflammation and other debilitating conditions like chronic pain. Some studies believe that as many as 1 in 4 veterans report that they are consuming cannabis for therapeutic purposes, but some veterans are often hesitant to discuss their cannabis usage with their VA care providers, in case it could jeopardize their benefits.
Although a number of states have legalized its use, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs continues to clearly state that it follows all federal laws, including classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. This means the VA providers are unable to recommend or assist veterans in obtaining marijuana. However, they also generally tell veterans they will not be denied benefits or lose care or services because of using marijuana.
Some veterans have reported that they are denied jobs or benefits because of marijuana use or work in the cannabis industry.
Veterans who work in the legal cannabis industry have also reported challenges to accessing benefits. A VA home loan could be denied since the cannabis industry isn’t considered a reliable or stable form of employment. There have also been reports of lost pensions due to industry work.
Veterans who seek positions involving federal contacts also must pass a drug test, which also could disqualify them if cannabis is present in their system.
With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill last December by Congress, hemp and hemp-based CBD are now federally legal and no longer classified as a Schedule 1 substance, so veterans could have access to some products that have potential health benefits without the psychoactive effects of cannabis.
Unfortunately, a number of bills that attempted to improve veteran access were withdrawn from the House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing in May 2019, including:
The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018: H.R.5520, first introduced in June 2018, would have authorized the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct and support medical marijuana research.
The Veterans Equal Access Act: This bill, over two years old, would have directed the VA to authorize VA health care providers to provide veterans with recommendations and opinions regarding participation in their state’s marijuana programs and complete forms reflecting those recommendations and opinions.
The Veterans Cannabis Use for Safe Healing Act: House Bill 2191 was introduced in April 2019 to prohibit the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from denying a veteran benefits because they use medical marijuana in legalized states. The legislation also allowed physicians at the VA to recommend medical cannabis to their patients.
Veterans Medical Safe Harbor Act: Introduced in February 2019, this bill is still sitting idle in the Senate Judiciary Committee. If passed, it would allow veterans to use, possess, or transport medical marijuana and to discuss the use of medical marijuana with physicians at the VA.
We will all have to wait and see what bills, if any, move forward in Congress to protect our veterans around marijuana in 2020. What is known is that members of Congress from 30 over legal-use states can use their federally-subsidized health insurance to discuss the benefits of medical cannabis with their doctor, while veterans who have served our country are not afforded those same rights.
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