Congress approved bills this week that would finally allow Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans.
Under current laws, VA doctors are not authorized to talk about medical marijuana with their patients.
As a result, veterans have had to rely strictly on pharmaceutical prescriptions to treat things like PTSD and other conditions.
But many vets have run into problems with these kinds of drugs.
“The death rate from opioids among VA health care is nearly double the national average,” said Earl Blumenauer, a Representative from Oregon.
Blumenauer has led the charge to change the VA’s rules about medical cannabis.
“From what I hear from veterans is that medical marijuana has helped them deal with pain and PTSD, particularly as an alternative to opioids.”
Prescription opioids are becoming a problem beyond just veterans.
A recent study found that there are almost 2 million Americans who are currently abusing prescription opioids. And 16,000 people die every year from opioid overdoses.
The more that veterans have problems with prescription drugs like these, the more they’ve started speaking up for medical marijuana.
Many see marijuana as a safer, more natural alternative to highly addictive painkillers like prescription opioids. In fact, there are lower rates of opioid addiction in states that have legalized medical marijuana.
The VA bills that were approved this week have been in the works with congress for some months now.
Last November a proposal to allow VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis to veterans failed to make it through the Senate.
Then in January of this year, lawmakers wrote a letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald. The note called on him to change the VA’s rules against medical marijuana.
And this week, an amendment that would change those rules finally received full Congressional approval.
The amendment was tacked onto bills about military funding and budgets. It states that federal money cannot be used to prevent veterans from accessing medical marijuana in states where it’s legal.
Yesterday, the bills passed the House on a vote of 295-129. The Senate approved the bill 89-8.
Now, the bills just need to be signed into law to become official.
Medical marijuana advocates are already celebrating the fact that the bills got such positive votes. Many see these votes as a significant step forward.
Another important step came last month. In April, the DEA approved a study about marijuana’s effects on people with PTSD. This new study could be especially relevant for war veterans.