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Bill to Ensure Safe Harbor to Medical Cannabis for Veterans Introduced in Senate
Legislation will make it easier for veterans to access cannabis for medical purposes, allow Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical cannabis to patients, and facilitate new study on cannabis and pain in veterans
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A bill introduced in the Senate on Tuesday would remove some of the barriers making it difficult for veterans to access medical cannabis programs in their states. The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), would allow veterans to use, possess, or transport cannabis as permitted by state law without fear of federal prosecution, and would allow doctors in the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) system to recommend medical cannabis to their patients. It also calls on the VA to commence a study into the effects of cannabis on pain in veterans within two years of passage, and allocates $15 million for that purpose.
“People who have served their country should have an easier time accessing the medicine that works for them, not harder,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “More ability to participate in state-legal cannabis programs with the help of their own doctors will improve quality of life for many veterans, and hopefully increase their interest in taking part in the rapidly expanding legal cannabis industry. We hope that the rest of Congress will support this legislation and help protect those who protect us.”
While veterans are not explicitly disallowed from becoming registered medical cannabis patients, doctors in the VA are not able to provide the recommendations or paperwork required to be eligible for medical cannabis programs in states where it is legal. This forces veterans who could find relief from cannabis to find doctors outside of the VA system at their own cost, which can often be prohibitively expensive, particularly for those dealing with disabilities.
“The Veterans Cannabis Coalition supports the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act because it aims to end an absurd catch-22 that veterans who medicate with cannabis find themselves in—where the federal government criminalizes them for possession, hinders them in talking to their VA doctors about cannabis, and blocks nearly all research into cannabis’ medical efficacy,” said Eric Goepel, founder and CEO of the Veterans Cannabis Coalition. “This state of affairs is preventing millions of veterans from accessing a substance that anecdotal, observational, and clinical evidence all indicate possesses incredible medical value in treating some of the most common injuries and conditions veterans must manage. We appreciate Senator Schatz’s leadership on this issue and look forward to building support for veteran access to cannabis in the Senate.”
The vast majority of states with effective medical cannabis laws include chronic or severe pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as qualifying conditions, both of which are common and serious concerns for the veteran community. In addition, growing evidence is showing that cannabis can be an effective and objectively safer alternative to opioids.
An American Legion poll released in October 2017 showed that 82% of veterans think cannabis should be a federally legal treatment, and 92% support increased research into medical cannabis.
The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) is the largest cannabis trade association in the U.S. and the only organization broadly representing cannabis-related businesses at the national level. NCIA promotes the growth of a responsible and legitimate cannabis industry and works toward a favorable social, economic, and legal environment for that industry in the United States.