VA Shuns Medical Marijuana, Leaving Vets without Resources

As both medical and recreational marijuana use become legalized among the states, the federal government has kept their stance regarding its use firm. As a result, the Department of Veterans Affairs health system has had to deny veterans access to marijuana as a medicinal resource. In the federal government’s eyes, marijuana is still illegal.

According to CNBC, the federal government still views marijuana as an illegal drug, despite the growing number of states making it legal. To date, 29 states have broadly legalized the use of medical marijuana, and 8 states and Washington DC have laws that fully legalize recreational marijuana.

As a result of the federal government’s stance, the Department of Veterans Affairs health system won’t recommend cannabis products for patients and, according to the New York Times, it has declined to even study the potential health benefits that cannabis could offer.

When interviewed, a psychologist working at the veterans’ hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., stated that “We have a disconnect in care… The V.A. has funded lots of marijuana studies, but not of therapeutic potential. All the work has been related to problems of use.”

According to Chisholm, Chisholm, and Kilpatrick, obtaining benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs for injuries sustained in the line of duty can be difficult. It often requires a lot of paperwork and doctor’s visits before any benefits will be approved. After going through the process of being approved for treatment, not allowing veterans to pursue all avenues for potential relief can be frustrating.

However, not all is hopeless for vets looking for relief. A bipartisan bill introduced in the House of Representatives this spring would order the department to study the “safety and efficacy of marijuana for treating chronic pain and PTSD.” This would be the first step down the road toward recommending and prescribing medical marijuana for health benefits.

Tim Walz, Democrat of Minnesota, was one of the introducers of the bill. He stated, “You may be a big advocate of medical marijuana, you may feel it has no value. Either way, you should want the evidence to prove it, and there is no better system to do that research than the V.A.”

Despite the opposition to the use of marijuana, the bill seems to have plenty of supporters. Since the bill does not advocate for the use of marijuana but simply research the potential benefits, it is a small step in the direction of approving the use of medical marijuana on a federal level. Much red tape must be dodged before that will happen, however.

According to a department survey, in 2017 nearly 9 percent of veterans reported using cannabis in the last year, and almost half were using it for medical purposes. Many have decided to take the decision out of the hands of the government and pursue treatment on their own. Hopefully, in the near future, the Department of Veterans Affairs will follow with some solid factual research.