VETS AND MEDICAL POT: Congressional action urged

Oregon U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Congressman Earl Blumenauer have joined nine members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives urging Congressional leadership to protect veterans’ abilities to discuss the use of medical marijuana with VA physicians in states where it is legal.

The group wants such protection included in the final Veterans Affairs funding bill. The appropriations bill for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies agreed to by the House and Senate did not include the provision.

The Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act Conference Report failed to include amendments sponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley and Steve Daines (R-MT) and Earl Blumenauer that would allow for parity between VA and non-VA facilities in 26 states which have medical marijuana programs. The amendment does not change current laws preventing the possession or dispensing of marijuana on VA property, but simply allows veterans to discuss all options that are legally available in their state with their VA health care providers.

“The Conferees failed to include a provision passed by bipartisan votes in the House and Senate that would allow VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana and make recommendations regarding its use in states where it is legal,” the members wrote. “We strongly believe the inclusion of either the House or Senate language in the final text should have been nonnegotiable.

“We feel the failure of the Conferees to include either provision is a drastic misfortune for veterans and is contrary to the will of both chambers as demonstrated by the strong bipartisan support for these provisions.”

The letter is signed by U.S. Senators Steve Daines (R-MT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) and U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jared Polis (D-CO), Dina Titus (D-NV) and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ).

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed Merkley and Daines’ amendment with a bipartisan vote of 20-10, and a substantially similar amendment passed the U.S. House with a vote of 233-189.

The full text of the letter is available below.

Dear Speaker Ryan, Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Reid, and Minority Leader Pelosi:

We write to express our serious concern with the conferenced Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2017. The Conferees failed to include a provision passed by bipartisan votes in the House and Senate that would allow VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana and make recommendations regarding its use in states where it is legal. The provisions that appeared in both the House and Senate bills were substantially similar and had broad bipartisan support. We strongly believe the inclusion of either the House or Senate language in the final text should have been nonnegotiable.

Currently, twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing for the medical use of the cannabis plant to treat certain conditions, and sixteen more have laws allowing for the use of some its constituent compounds. However, under VHA Directive 2011-004, the Veterans Health Administration effectively prohibits VA physicians from taking any steps toward providing their own clinical judgment when discussing or recommending the use of cannabis with their patients.

For the second year in a row, language correcting this and giving veterans a life changing benefit has overwhelming passed the Senate after being adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee, this year by a bipartisan vote of 20-10. A substantially similar amendment passed the House by a vote of 233-189. There is precedent and an expectation that identical or similar language is to be accepted in the final version of conferenced legislation. Additionally, both the House and Senate sponsors of the legislation wrote to the Conferees requesting inclusion of the language and providing guidance on a preferred outcome. As you will note, the texts of these provisions are drastically similar.

Senate Text: SEC. 247. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the Department of Veterans Affairs in this Act may be used in a manner that would interfere with the ability of a veteran to participate in a medicinal marijuana program approved by a State; deny any services from the Department to a veteran who is participating in such a program; or limit or interfere with the ability of a health care provider of the Department to make appropriate recommendations, fill out forms, or take steps to comply with such a program.

House Text: SEC. 523. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to implement, administer, or enforce Veterans Health Administration directive 2011–004 (or directive of the same substance) with respect to the prohibition on “VA providers from completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a Veteran’s participation in a State marijuana program.”

We feel the failure of the Conferees to include either provision is a drastic misfortune for veterans and is contrary to the will of both chambers as demonstrated by the strong bipartisan support for these provisions. We urge you to act to ensure one of these provisions is included in any final funding bill sent to the President.






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