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Last week, Oregon Congressperson Earl Blumenauer was in the midst of, uh, congressing, which for him includes introducing, co-sponsoring, and supporting congressional legislation, often around cannabis issues. In this case, Blumenauer was pushing for an amendment that would have allowed doctors within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend cannabis to patients if they’re based in a state with a medical marijuana program.
In a remarkable turn of events, Blumenauer was forced to withdraw his amendment after the VA effectively cock-blocked him with a surprise announcement about their concerns—which the VA has a great deal of, unless we’re talking about concern over the wellbeing of veterans, apparently.
The amendment is question isn’t a shocking new piece of legislation—Blumenauer has introduced it previously. As Marijuana Moment broke it down in a great piece, a version of this same measure made it through both chambers of Congress in 2016. But as Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment, the bill’s particulars were “stripped out by the Republican leadership… An illustration of how far we have evolved: the House leadership that stripped this provision out was headed by [Speaker John Boehner], who is now a spokesperson for the cannabis industry, having described that he’s evolved on this issue and thinks it’s a good idea. We haven’t evolved in this Congress in providing protections for the VA.”
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The concerns on the part of the VA are, apparently: “VA doctors could potentially be prosecuted for aiding and abetting violations of the Controlled Substances Act by filling out forms on federal property to help veterans obtain cannabis, which is still a Schedule I drug.” However, back in 2002, a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals established protection for doctors making recommendations for medical cannabis. The VA wasn’t sure that covered federally employed doctors, AKA every doctor at the VA.
It’s hard to believe that the VA’s sole concern was legal protection for their employees, as the VA demonstrated last week a widespread fear, distrust, and ultimate opposition to cannabis. Per Marijuana Moment, a VA official informed lawmakers that the “VA is also against legislation that would require the department to conduct clinical trials on the therapeutic benefits of marijuana for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain, a bill that to mandate a survey of veterans on their cannabis use and a proposal to require training on medical cannabis for VA health practitioners.”
As Blumenauer mentioned in a speech shortly before pulling the amendment from the bill, “I have been working in this Congress to extend [medical cannabis access] to our veterans who, if anything, need medical marijuana more than any other category of our citizens. We lost 7,000 people to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but we’ve lost 100,000 of those veterans to suicides and opioid overdoses. The VA, I’m afraid, has not been as helpful as it should be.”