Wyden, Merkley Reintroduce Bill to Allow VA to Prescribe Medical Marijuana to Veterans

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said today they have joined colleagues to reintroduce legislation to allow doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans in Oregon and the 35 other states that have established medical marijuana programs.

“Plenty of evidence suggests that medical marijuana holds promise for pain management, PTSD and other medical conditions frequently experienced by our wounded warriors. But even in the 36 states that have legal medical marijuana programs, veterans are unfairly denied access through the VA,” Wyden said. “This outright ban on VA doctors prescribing medical marijuana, even in states where it’s legal, does a terrible disservice to veterans in Oregon and across the nation who’ve already sacrificed so much and simply want to discuss all treatment options with their VA provider. It’s past time Congress act to give veterans equal access to all of the health care options they deserve.” 

“Our veterans make countless sacrifices throughout—and in some cases, long after—their time in uniform, in order to protect our communities and the values we cherish,” Merkley said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure they receive the very best medical care possible, and that means we need to keep every effective and safe medical treatment on the table—including medical cannabis—at our VA clinics and hospitals.”

In addition to creating a temporary, five-year safe harbor protection for veterans who use medical marijuana, the bicameral bill would also direct the VA to research how medical marijuana could help veterans better manage chronic pain and reduce opioid abuse.

Also joining Wyden and Merkley on this bill, led by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D- Hawaii, are U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Jacky Rosen, D-Nev. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Dave Joyce, R-Ohio.

The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act is supported by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), VoteVets, Minority Veterans of America, Veterans Cannabis Coalition, Veterans Cannabis Project, Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), NORML, National Cannabis Roundtable, U.S. Pain Foundation, Drug Policy Alliance, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Veteran’s Initiative 22.

Jeremy Butler, CEO for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America: “Our members have spoken loud and clear on this issue. Eighty-eight percent of respondents to our most recent member survey approved of cannabis use for medicinal purposes. With such overwhelming support, we need to be removing barriers to care for veterans, not maintaining them. IAVA applauds Sen. Schatz for reintroducing the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act to do just that.”

Doug Distaso, Executive Director for the Veterans Cannabis Project: “The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act represents the most significant reform effort to date for medical cannabis access for veterans. We regularly hear from veterans who are forced to seek unsafe treatment options or are altogether unable to receive care because of the inability to discuss medical cannabis with their VA providers. Allowing the VA to prescribe medical cannabis will make an immediate impact on veteran patients in need. The protection and research advancements afforded by the bill offer a roadmap to a safer, more accessible medical cannabis environment for veterans. Veterans Cannabis Project applauds Senator Schatz and Congresswoman Lee for their lead and encourages their colleagues in Congress to support the bill.