A push to give military veterans access to medical marijuana was shot down this month by Congress, but U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., vowed the fight is far from over.
Titus, a staunch supporter of medicinal cannabis, said she believes the move last week was a concession to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who wants a federal crackdown on marijuana despite the trend of states legalizing or decriminalizing the drug.
But momentum to open access to the drug to veterans halted when the House Rules Committee blocked the bipartisan “Veterans Equal Access” amendment from being attached to the Veterans Affairs funding bill.
“When you can keep something that is supported by the majority off the agenda, that’s hardly a democratic way to make policy,” Titus, who co-sponsored the bill, said.
Titus said it seemed like the Republicans who blocked the amendment were worried about Sessions, who in June asked Congress to let him use federal funds to crackdown on medical marijuana. His request was denied on Thursday.
“They know that Sessions is really tough on drugs,” Titus said, referring to the House committee.
The VA and pot
The American Legion, one of the largest veterans organizations with 2.4 million members, called on Congress in September to remove marijuana from the Schedule 1 list and “recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value.” Even Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has said that medical pot — legal in 29 states — could benefit veterans.
The VA prohibits its doctors from discussing medical marijuana as an option for patients because the federal government groups it with drugs like heroin. The amendment would have allowed VA doctors and medical providers to discuss and potentially recommend medical marijuana veterans in states where it is legal.
“There is a lot of support for the purpose and the cause,” said Shane Terry, a former Air Force fighter pilot and Top Gun instructor at Nellis Air Force Base. “I’m just surprised that it’s been met with so much resistance.”
Terry, who did two tours in the Middle East, said the biggest issues medical marijuana might help with is the prominence of post-traumatic stress disorder and the high rate of suicide associated with it. The VA estimates that 22 veterans die from suicide per day, or one every 65 minutes.
“If cannabis can help just 5 percent of them … ” Terry said.
Nevada’s fledgling legal marijuana market has been both a boon and a burden for veterans looking for options beyond the standard prescription medications. They no longer have to sign up for a registry to buy marijuana, meaning they have a smaller chance of losing their VA benefits. But it also creates a situation in which users could mix prescription medications and marijuana without any medical provider advice.
“It sets up a potentially dangerous situation,” Terry said.
What happens next
The push to let veterans gain access to medical marijuana isn’t dead, Titus said.
The measure the House rules committee killed is alive in the Senate’s version of the VA funding bill, and could be part of the final bill.
But even Senate approval would be a temporary solution that expires each year, Titus said.
So what would be a permanent solution?
Titus said she does not support immediately changing the federal classification marijuana, but she would like to see cannabis in a category of its own so it can be studied properly.
“What we need is a comprehensive policy that takes care of the problem once and for all,” she said.
Contact Colton Lochhead at email@example.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.