Joyce Leads Bipartisan Effort to Allow VA Doctors to Recommend Medical Cannabis to Veterans

Apr 15, 2021
Press
Veterans

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14) joined his fellow Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) in introducing the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act of 2021. Senator Brian Schatz (HI) has introduced the bill in the Senate.

This bipartisan, bicameral legislation would allow doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to discuss, recommend and prescribe medical marijuana to veterans in states that have established medical marijuana programs. Currently, VA doctors are prohibited from doing so as the federal government classifies cannabis as a Schedule I substance. According to a 2017 American Legion survey more than 90% of veteran households support marijuana research and 82% want to see medical cannabis designated as a federally legal treatment option.

“There is a growing body of evidence about the beneficial uses of medical cannabis as treatment for PTSD and chronic pain, two terrible conditions that plague many of our veterans,” said Joyce. “If a state has made it legal, like Ohio has, the federal government should not be preventing a VA doctor from recommending medical cannabis if they believe that treatment is right for their patient. As the son of a World War II veteran who was wounded on the battlefield, I’ve seen firsthand the many challenges our nation’s heroes face when they return home. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this important bill and will continue to do everything in my power to ensure we are providing our veterans with the care they need to overcome the wounds of war.”

The legislation would also create a temporary, five-year safe harbor protection for veterans who use medical marijuana and their doctors. Additionally, the bill would direct the VA to research the effects of medical marijuana on veterans in pain, as well as the relationship between medical marijuana programs and a potential reduction in opioid abuse among veterans.

In a recent study, researchers found that those who suffer from PTSD who used cannabis saw greater reductions in their PTSD symptoms and were 2.57 times more likely to recover from PTSD during the study than those who were not using cannabis. Furthermore, a 2016 study at the Minnesota Department of Health found that 58% of patients on other pain medications were able to reduce their use of those medications when they started taking medical cannabis. Of the patients taking opioid medications, more than 62% were able to reduce or eliminate opioid usage after 6 months. 

According to the VA, nearly 20% of the 2.7 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will experience either PTSD or depression while more than 50% of older veterans receiving care at the VA are living with some form of chronic pain. Often times, people with PTSD experience depression, panic attacks, severe anxiety, or a substance use problem, putting them at a higher risk for suicide. Tragically, the VA’s most recent annual report shows that nearly 18 veterans take their own life every day.

Organizations that support this legislation include: Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), VoteVets, Minority Veterans of America, Veterans Cannabis Coalition, Veterans Cannabis Project, National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), NORML, National Cannabis Roundtable, U.S. Pain Foundation, Drug Policy Alliance, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Veteran’s Initiative 22, Arizona Dispensary Association, California Cannabis Industry Association, and Hawaii Cannabis Industry Association.

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