IAVA urges Congress to work toward veteran medical marijuana access in 2020

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Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America issued a plea to lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday -- make veteran access to medical cannabis a major legislative priority in 2020.

Coupled with what have become more common veteran advocacy priorities, such as suicide prevention, toxic exposure research and care, and health and education benefits, IAVA was one of the only major national veteran organizations to ask Congress to focus its efforts on clearing the way for veterans to access medical marijuana. 

Use of medical marijuana has growing support from the veteran community, IAVA leaders told lawmakers during the latest in a series of joint House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees hearings featuring major veteran service organizations. 

In IAVA’s latest member survey, more than 80 percent of veterans said they supported legalizing marijuana for medical use. 

“Across party lines, medicinal cannabis has been rapidly increasing in support,” IAVA CEO Jeremy Butler said.”Yet our national policies are outdated, research is lacking and stigma persists.”

Specifically, IAVA cited the bipartisan VA Medicinal Cannabis Act, still sitting in committee. The bill would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct a clinical trial of the effects of medical-grade cannabis on veterans diagnosed with chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Butler urged Congress to pass the bill, which he said would kick off research to “ensure veterans, healthcare providers and lawmakers are all aware of both the benefits and level of safety of treating PTSD, TBI, chronic pain and other illnesses with cannabis.” 

Past attempts by Congress -- even those with some bipartisan support -- have been met with opposition from VA leaders. In the Senate, some of those measures have been met with opposition from Republican leadership.VA leaders say they can take no action on medical marijuana for veterans until Congress removes it from the federal controlled substances list.

Both sides of the aisle in Congress, at least those that focus on veterans affairs, seem to agree -- the VA must study medical cannabis to determine if it could help veterans. 

They just don’t seem to agree on how to go about it. 

But lawmakers have said repeatedly they don’t want VA to wait any longer to do that research, especially in light of the worsening rate of suicide among veterans. 

Previously, IAVA told Congress that 20 percent of its members report using cannabis and of those, 30 percent said they haven’t talked about it with their VA doctors, fearing they could lose benefits. 

VA says on its website that "veterans will not be denied VA benefits because of marijuana use." 

Last fall saw the first-ever vote in Congress to remove marijuana from the federal controlled substances list. The House Judiciary Committee in November voted to advance the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which, among other things, would also allow VA doctors or VA-contracted doctors to make recommendations about marijuana to veterans living in states where its use is legal. The bill has yet to make it to the House floor and remains in committee in the Senate. 


Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.
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