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Medical Marijuana for America’s Soldiers

This year, America’s active and veteran members of the military continued their fight to access medical marijuana.

America’s military veterans strongly believe that medical marijuana can benefit them and their medical concerns. A poll conducted by the American Legion this year revealed that over 80 percent favor allowing federal doctors to recommend cannabis to veterans. The American Legion itself has also come out in favor of medical marijuana for veterans, adopting a resolution urging federal officials to address marijuana policies for vets.

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Lawmakers are also pressing the issue among their peers. Representatives on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (VA) are collectively pushing the Trump administration to study whether medical marijuana could benefit military veterans. Ten Democratic members of the committee urged the Veterans Health Administration Office of Research and Development to start investigating the potential effects of medical marijuana for veterans.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin acknowledged this year that evidence indicates medical marijuana could be beneficial for addressing conditions that commonly affect veterans, but federal law prohibits VA physicians from recommending it. Until marijuana is rescheduled under federal law, Shulkin said, the VA will not “be able to prescribe marijuana for conditions that may be helpful.”

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The House Rules Committee blocked a medical marijuana amendment over the summer that would have allowed veterans to participate in legal medical marijuana programs. The committee decided not to allow it to proceed to a vote in the House.

The amendment would have prohibited federal funds from interfering with a veteran’s ability to participate in medical marijuana programs within states that have passed and implemented its own medicinal cannabis laws. It would also have allowed Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors in those states to recommend medical marijuana to veterans.

While veterans fight to access medical marijuana, a new defense bill could open the door for active duty soldiers to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. The National Defense Authorization Act (HR-2810) gives the Department of Defense (DoD), rather than the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the authority to approve drugs and medical devices for active military.

Section 732 of HR-2810 would allow the Department of Defense to sidestep the FDA and marijuana’s Schedule I status to sign off on cannabis as a medical treatment to those serving the country overseas, though it isn’t clear whether the DoD would take these steps.

Access to marijuana for America’s active military and veterans is sure to be an important story going into 2018 as well.

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