Senate Introduces Bill Legalizing Medical Marijuana for Veterans

United States Capitol building, where senators are voting on a bill to make medical marijuana legal for veterans

Federal Bill Would Make Medical Marijuana Legal for Veterans

Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) proposed a new bill to the Senate that would legalize medical marijuana for veterans and allow physicians from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help veterans get access to it.

Currently, federal law prohibits VA physicians from recommending medical marijuana to veterans.

The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act

The bill, also called the “Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act,” would “allow veterans to use, possess, and transport medical marijuana” in accordance with state laws.

In addition, the bill would appropriate $15 million to the VA for research into the benefits of medical marijuana for pain and the effect of medical marijuana access on opioid abuse.

Military veterans often suffer from various conditions during and after their service, such as chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the findings section of the bill, almost 60 percent of veterans returning from the Middle East are living with some form of chronic pain.

Chronic pain is often treated with opioids because of their potency, but they can also lead to overdose and addiction. Veterans seem to be especially susceptible to the dangers of opioids, as they are twice as likely to die from an accidental overdose when compared to non-veterans.

Veterans are often prescribed opioids to deal with chronic pain, the bill would make medical marijuana much more accessible for veterans

Veterans are often prescribed opioids to treat chronic pain, leading to many cases of addiction

However, medical marijuana may offer a solution to the dangers of opioids.

“States with medical cannabis laws have a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with States without medical cannabis laws,” the bill states. “Marijuana and its compounds show promise for treating a wide range of diseases and disorders, including pain management.”

Veterans are treating chronic pain with CBD

Research on medical marijuana’s compounds, especially cannabidiol (CBD), shows that cannabinoids are promising and viable treatments for chronic pain.

A 2008 review by Ethan B. Russo, a neurologist who worked for GW Pharmaceuticals (a British pharmaceutical company that creates cannabis-based medications), found strong evidence for cannabinoids as a therapy for difficult-to-treat, chronic pain.

Russo showed that CBD alleviates pain by desensitizing the vanilloid receptors, which are known for playing a role in pain perception. CBD also elevates levels of anandamide, a natural cannabinoid in the body that relieves pain and improves mood.

Perhaps as a result of the growing evidence for cannabinoids as analgesics, medical cannabis use among veterans seems to be gaining traction.

According to a survey in October 2017 by the American Legion, 1 in 5 veterans use medical cannabis to alleviate a physical or medical condition. Respondents to the survey also overwhelmingly supported research on medical cannabis (92%) and legalizing medical cannabis (82%).

Support for federal legalization was also strong across veterans of various age groups and political preferences.

If medical marijuana is federally legalized for veterans with this Act, similar legislation for the entire nation may not be far behind.

“Historically, veteran and military communities have long been at the forefront of American social change, catalyzing the widespread acceptance of evolving cultural norms and perceptions surrounding racial, gender, and sexual equality,” said Justin Strekal, the Political Director of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “The therapeutic use of cannabis by veterans follows this trend and members of Congress should follow their lead and pass the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.”