Thursday was a very big day for veterans, and for cannabis reform supporters that have been fighting alongside veterans to get the federal government to lift the ban on VA doctors discussing medical marijuana with patients. Thursday Congress voted to pass amendments that lifted the ban. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the amendment in the House, and Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the amendment in the Senate. When I saw the House passage come across social media I was ecstatic, which was quickly followed by passage in the Senate, which blew my mind (in a good way!). Below are reactions to the votes. I tried to get something up sooner, but the last couple of days have been insane (stay tuned!). Most orgs issued reactions to the House passage, but I think that it's safe to say that the joy applies to the Senate vote as well:
Tom Angell from Marijuana Majority:
"It's looking like this could finally be the year the federal government stops making veterans jump through costly, time-consuming hoops just to get legal access to medical marijuana. Cannabis has shown great promise in helping veterans deal with PTSD and treat chronic pain, and it's an increasingly attractive alternative to opioids. There's absolutely no reason the V.A. should be preventing its doctors from helping veterans who served our country find relief with medical marijuana."
Weed for Warriors:
Decorated disabled Iraq War veteran Brandon Wyatt applauded Congress for passing a measure today that will help veterans in states where medical marijuana is legal get the medicine they need to fight their battle with post traumatic stress disorder and other ailments.
"This is a significant step forward in our cause," said Wyatt, a lawyer and activist, who staged a groundbreaking free cannabis giveaway last month outside the Veterans Administration clinic in Washington, D.C., for patients suffering from PTSD. "We appreciate the support and efforts of all involved. Nevertheless, the job is not finished, because this legislation does not allow all veterans to be provided with the quality healthcare they need in order to be free of the fear of having to self-medicate. Easier access doesn't equate to equal access."
The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, (D-Ore.), only applies to states where cannabis is legal; it doesn't allow for the distribution or use of cannabis at VA clinics or any federal facilities; and it doesn't allow for the VA to cover the costs.
"It simply would allow veterans to enroll in a state medical cannabis program with no recriminations from the VA, which should not have been the situation initially. Medical punishment is unethical, wrong and has promoted distrust, treatment refusal and death among veterans in the "green closet" regarding cannabis therapy," said Wyatt, who served as a U.S. Army paratrooper. "This measure doesn't change the overarching fact that cannabis, including medical cannabis, remains illegal under federal law."
The amendment was attached to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2017, and was approved today on a 233-189 vote in the House of Representatives. The measure has already cleared a Senate oversight committee and is expected to be approved by the entire Senate in coming days.
"Veterans in non-medical cannabis states should not be subjected to medical discrimination due to the unequal application of conflicts between federal and state law. We vets have a workforce-created injury, so why are veterans forced to pay for their medication, especially when so many veterans live below the poverty line and are already disabled."
Veterans comprise of 7% of the total U.S. population, but account for 20% of the total committed suicides, Wyatt noted.
Meanwhile, on Friday, May 20 at 5:20 p.m., Wyatt, representing the veterans organization Weed for Warriors Project, and DCMJ, the organization that spearheaded Ballot Initiative 71 legalizing cannabis in the District of Columbia, will gather along Pennsylvania Avenue NW, directly north of the White House to voice solidarity among veterans regarding the suicide epidemic and demand that veterans medical rights are equally applied and protected in all 50 states.
New Approach Oregon:
Our friend, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, told us that he would be doing some big things this year on cannabis reform and he has already delivered! Today, Blumenauer's amendment that removes the restrictions that prevented doctors at the VA from talking to their patients about medical marijuana passed the House of Representatives, after just barely missing the mark by 3 votes a year ago.
This historic bipartisan amendment, which passed with nearly every Democratic vote and 57 Republicans, was approved by the House of Representatives 233 to 189. Following the historic vote in the House, the Senate passed a similar amendment by the whopping margin of 89 to 8. In the Senate, our very own Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden helped usher in this important policy change.
Oregon helped lead the nation on this vital reform, as not only did Congressman Blumenauer author the bill, but every single member of the Oregon congressional delegation voted for the measure! Not every state can say that. Oregon would not have taken such a leadership role if it weren't for the advancements that we have made here, so we can all be very proud today.
"I commend my colleagues for showing compassion and supporting our wounded warriors," Representative Blumenauer stated in a press release. "Today's vote is a win for these men and women who have done so much for us and deserve equal treatment in being able to consult with, and seek a recommendation from, their personal VA physician about medical marijuana."
Let's help Congressman Blumenauer and his cannabis reform efforts! Please consider contributing a few dollars, perhaps $4.20 or $42.00, to Earl's "Cannabis Fund," a fund within his political operation created to support his reform efforts.
He helped us pass Measure 91 here in Oregon and has had our back, and the backs of our veterans over the years, and I'm hoping we can have his as he works to end cannabis prohibition once and for all.
Americans for Safe Access:
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve the Veterans Equal Access Amendment (VEAA) to the FY2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilConVA) Appropriations bill, which sets the budget for the Veterans Administration (VA). The amendment, which creates a path to medical cannabis therapy for veterans receiving their healthcare through the VA, was approved by a vote of 233-189 with 57 Republicans and 176 Democrats. The amendment was sponsored again by Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) with bipartisan co-sponsorship from Representatives Heck (R-NV), Farr (D-CA), Rohrabacher (R-CA), Reed (R-NY), Titus (D-CA), Lee (D-CA), Gallego (D-AZ), and Polis (D-CA).
The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Directive 2011-004, explicitly forbids VA physicians from filling out recommendation forms for state medical marijuana programs or discussing medical marijuana benefits with the veterans in their care. This directive was set to expire on January 31, 2016; however, the policy remains in effect, leaving it up to Congress to take action to fix the problem. Under this policy, veterans who are dependent on the VA for health care are denied equal access to state medical marijuana programs or honest conversations with their doctor. The VEAA would forbid the VA from using any funds to punish physicians who write recommendations or discuss benefits of medical marijuana therapy with their patients. If signed by the President, it will have to be renewed again next year. The CARERS Act, currently awaiting a hearing in both houses, would make this provision permanent.
Representative Blumenauer described the current problems veterans seeking medical cannabis access face by saying, "They have to go ahead and hire a physician out of their own pocket, not dealing with the medical professional of their choice, their VA doctor, who knows them the best." This problem hurts low-income veterans the most, as they are in the worst position to pay for out of pocket medical expenses.
Opposition to the amendment seemed tepid at best. "I rise somewhat reluctantly." said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), who went on to say, "I understand that the country is evolving on this issue as many states, including my own, have moved forward on medical marijuana," in speaking against the vote.
With the passage of last year's VEAA, many veterans in legal medical marijuana states have taken advantage of the opportunity to utilize medical cannabis therapy to treat a host of ailments often incurred through active duty such as chronic pain, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, phantom limb syndrome, cancer, and depression. "I can tell you for certain, with every ounce of my integrity, that without the benefits of medical cannabis, I would not be standing here before you all today, " states former US Army Captain Eric Gudz. ASA and Capt. Gutz met with House offices as part of the lobbying effort to pass the amendment.
"We are pleased that both the House and Senate have made it clear that the Veterans Administration should not punish doctors for recommending medical cannabis to their veteran patients," said Michael Liszewski, ASA Government Affairs Director. "We anticipate this amendment will reach the President, and once signed, it will give VA physicians another tool in their toolbox to treat the healthcare needs of America's veterans."
National Cannabis Industry Association:
The U.S. House voted this morning in favor of a measure that would allow Veterans Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana for their patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. The measure, an amendment to the Department of Veterans Affairs appropriations bill proposed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), passed by a 44-vote margin, including 57 Republicans voting in favor. The final vote was 233-189. A similar amendment proposed in the House last year failed narrowly, 213-210.
"This is a policy that is long overdue, and it's good to see such strong support for it in the House," said National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) executive director Aaron Smith. "Medical marijuana has huge potential benefits for many of the issues that military veterans deal with, and it's unconscionable to muzzle their doctors from talking about it.
"We hope this vote for common sense and compassion is the first step this year toward a smarter, saner approach to cannabis policy from Congress."
NCIA members flooded the Hill last week for its 6th annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days. Nearly 150 cannabis professionals from across the country held nearly over 200 meetings with members of Congress and their staffs to press for cannabis policy reform. This year's Lobby Days came just as Congress is beginning the appropriations process.
In past years, amendments to appropriations bills have successfully protected state-legal marijuana patients and providers from federal interference. Other amendments - including additions to address the banking situation and to protect all state-legal marijuana businesses and customers - have either passed in one chamber but been dropped during omnibus negotiations or failed very narrowly.
A CBS News national poll from last month shows that 56% of Americans support full legalization of marijuana, with an eye-popping 90% supporting legalization for medical use.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer's Office:
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to the FY 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill led by Representative Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) to make it easier for qualified veterans to access state-legal medical marijuana. The amendment had bipartisan support and was co-sponsored by Representatives Joe Heck (R-NV), Sam Farr (D-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Tom Reed (R-NY), Dina Titus (D-NV), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), and Jared Polis (D-CO). It passed by 233-189.
"One of the greatest tragedies of our time is our failure to adequately deal with the needs of our veterans returning home with wounds both visible and unseen. Giving them access to medical marijuana as an alternative treatment option to deal with chronic pain, PTSD, and other conditions is critical at a time when our veterans are dying with a suicide rate 50 percent higher than civilians and opiate overdoses at nearly double the national average. Medical marijuana can be a safer, more effective alternative," said Representative Blumenauer. "I commend my colleagues for showing compassion and supporting our wounded warriors. Today's vote is a win for these men and women who have done so much for us and deserve equal treatment in being able to consult with, and seek a recommendation from, their personal VA physician about medical marijuana."
Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) specifically prohibits its medical providers from completing forms allowing a qualified veteran to participate in a state medical marijuana program. This forces veterans out of the VA system to seek a simple recommendation for treatment for eligible conditions under state laws. Representative Blumenauer's amendment ensures that no funds made available to the VA can be used to implement this prohibition, which would, in effect, strike it down.
"This is an historic moment and further proof there is real movement and bipartisan support in reforming outdated federal marijuana policies," said Representative Blumenauer. "There is more to be done, and I will build on today's momentum and continue my efforts in catching federal policy up to reflect the views held by a majority of Americans."
In April, the Senate Committee on Appropriations passed a similar amendment to the Senate version of the FY 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. The Senate and House bills will need to be reconciled and passed by both chambers to become law.
Members of the US House of Representatives voted today for the first time to expand military veterans' access to medicinal cannabis in states that allow it.
Members voted 233 to 189 in favor of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, offered by Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) to the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, that prohibits the federal government from sanctioning V.A. physicians who wish to recommend cannabis therapy to their patients.
"We should not be limiting the treatment options available to our veterans," Rep. Blumenauer opined on the House floor.
Under the provision, military veterans who reside in states with active medical marijuana programs would be able to obtain a recommendation from their V.A. physician rather than having to seek out a private doctor.
The vote is a marked change from last year, when House members defeated a similar amendment 213 to 210.
The House and Senate versions of FY 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill will now await a concurrence vote prior to being sent to the President.
Drug Policy Alliance:
The House passed a bipartisan amendment today, 233 to 189, allowing Veterans Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. The vote already passed the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, but narrowly failed in the House last year. The amendment will likely now make the final spending bill.
"We are delighted to lift this outdated, discriminatory policy, which has negatively impacted the lives of so many veterans." said Michael Collins, deputy director for the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "We need all options on the table to treat veterans, and finally Congress has seen sense and will allow veterans to be on an equal footing to other residents of medical marijuana states."
The Veterans Equal Access Amendment was led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who has championed this issue for years. It was also cosponsored by a bipartisan group including Reps. Heck (R-NV), Farr (D-CA), Rohrabacher (R-CA), Reed (R-NY), Titus (D-NV), Lee (D-CA), Gallego (D-AZ) and Polis (D-CO). It was added on the floor to a must-pass Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill. The same amendment narrowly failed last year, losing by 3 votes. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed this amendment in April of this year, 20 votes to 10.
"Today is a monumental day for us vets," said TJ Thompson, a disabled U.S. Navy Veteran ('98-'04) who lives in Virginia. "Congress has recognized our right to heal, allowing us access to medical cannabis within the VA."
Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) prohibits its medical providers from completing forms brought by their patients seeking recommendations or opinions regarding participation in a state medical marijuana program. The directive expired in January 2016, but would remain in force absent Congressional action. The Blumenauer amendment authorizes VA physicians and other health care providers to provide recommendations and opinions regarding the use of medical marijuana to veterans who live in medical marijuana states.
A legislative version of this amendment was included in groundbreaking Senate medical marijuana legislation introduced in March 2015. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act is the first-ever bill in the U.S. Senate to legalize marijuana for medical use and the most comprehensive medical marijuana bill ever introduced in Congress. The bill was introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and generated enormous interest.
Marijuana Policy Project:
Great news! The U.S. House of Representatives earlier today overwhelmingly passed an amendment that will finally allow Veterans Affairs physicians to discuss medical marijuana with their patients in accordance with state law! The vote was 233 in support with only 189 opposing.
This victory would never have been possible without the help of our champions in the House, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Joe Heck (R-NV), who recognized the need to allow our veterans to have access to all legal medical treatment options and then lobbied their colleagues to do so too.
Please note that this amendment will not become law until it is included in the final spending package; however, we do expect it to be included. Keep an eye on your inbox for any further developments, and --- as always --- thank you for your continued support.