- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Medical marijuana legislation proposed Tuesday in both the House and Senate would remove barriers preventing doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs from touting the plant to former service members seeking treatment.

Sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Rep. Barbara Lee of California, both Democrats, the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would establish legal protections permitting VA doctors to recommend pot to patients.

Most states have passed laws legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana to varying degrees, but VA doctors are prohibited from endorsing its use given its classification as a controlled substance.

If passed, the bill would establish a five-year safe harbor period in which it would be legal under federal law for “a physician to recommend, complete forms for or register veterans for participation in a treatment program involving medical marijuana that is approved by applicable State or Tribal law,” in addition to establishing similar protections allowing vets to “use, possess, or transport medical marijuana” in accordance with applicable policies.

The bill would also allocate $15 million meant to research “the effects of medical marijuana on veterans in pain” and “the relationship between treatment programs involving medical marijuana that are approved by States, the access of veterans to such programs and a reduction in opioid abuse among veterans,” according to its language.

“In 33 states, doctors and their patients have the option to use medical marijuana to manage pain—unless those doctors work for the VA and their patients are veterans,” said Mr. Schatz said. “This bill gives VA doctors in these states the option to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, and it also promises to shed light on how medical marijuana can help with the nation’s opioid epidemic.”

“The federal government should never stand between our veterans and their medicine,” Ms. Lee echoed. “This critical legislation is a long overdue step to empower veterans and their doctors to make informed health care decisions, without political interference,” she added, calling existing marijuana prohibition “unnecessary, harmful and counterproductive.”

Marijuana is classified under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule 1 narcotic, placing it alongside heroin in a category reserved for drugs deemed void of medical value by the federal government.

“Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and until federal law changes, VA is not able to prescribe it,” a VA spokesperson told The Washington Times when reached for comment.

One of several drug reform bills proposed since the 115th Congress first convened last month, the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act offered by Mr. Schatz and Ms. Lee is nearly identical to a proposal introduced last September by Bill Nelson, a Democrat who represented Florida in the U.S. Senate prior to losing last year’s mid-term race to Rick Scott, the state’s former Republican governor.

Ten of the 33 states that have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana have separately passed laws permitting its use by adults for recreational purposes. Seven of those – Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington state – have gone further and implemented schemes for taxing and regulating retail pot sales.

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