Congressional lawmakers, spearheaded by co-chairs of the Cannabis Caucus Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Brian Mast (R-FL), are pressing House appropriators to uphold language permitting U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to issue medical marijuana recommendations to veterans residing in states with legalized cannabis.
The initiative, conveyed through a letter sent to House Appropriations Committee leadership on Friday, includes support from Reps. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR). The collective plea urges committee leaders to maintain vital protections within the final 2024 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (MilConVA) spending bill.
Both the House and Senate had previously incorporated provisions into their respective MilConVA measures earlier this year, granting VA doctors the authority to make medical cannabis recommendations. However, differences in the language of the provisions exist. The lawmakers are specifically urging committee leaders to advocate for the adoption of the Senate version secured by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
This strategic move seeks to avoid a repeat of the 2016 scenario, where conflicting versions of the VA marijuana amendment in the appropriations bills led to its complete exclusion from the final deal signed into law.
The lawmakers highlighted the growing acceptance of medical marijuana, with 38 states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories legalizing access. They emphasized the need to overcome the VA’s current prohibition on medical providers, restricting them from assisting veterans in obtaining recommendations or opinions about participating in state medical marijuana programs.
The proposed language for inclusion in the final MilConVA bill is outlined in section 260, emphasizing that funds appropriated to the Department of Veterans Affairs should not interfere with veterans’ participation in state-approved medicinal marijuana programs. It also emphasizes that VA physicians should not be hindered from offering recommendations or complying with such programs.
“Veterans should not be forced outside the VA system to seek a treatment that is legal in their state,” the letter to appropriators concludes. “VA physicians should not be denied the ability to offer a recommendation that they think may meet the needs of their patients.”
This bipartisan effort aligns with the Veterans Equal Access Act, a standalone bill refiled by Reps. Blumenauer and Mast on the House side, aiming to achieve the same policy outcome. Despite previous attempts with bipartisan support, the Veterans Equal Access Act has yet to be enacted, but this latest push underscores the ongoing commitment to advocating for veterans’ access to medical marijuana.