Veterans Medical Marijuana Amendement Rejected In House Vote, But Opposition Dwindles

Medical Marijuana
An amendment to the 2016 appropriations bill would have allowed VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana with their patients, but it was rejected. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Despite growing acceptance of medical marijuana and its uses, the drug is still illegal on the federal levels and is classified as a schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, defining it as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” For many House Republicans last week, that was the rationale behind voting against an amendment in next year’s appropriations bill to lift a gag order barring Veterans Administration (VA) doctors from discussing medical marijuana with their patients.   

The amendment was proposed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and was rejected by a slim vote of 213-210, with eight Democrats voting against it and 35 Republicans voting in favor. The bill would have given VA doctors in states where medical marijuana is legal the ability to discuss medical marijuana with their patients and recommend it if necessary.

“States are listening to their residents on the benefits of medical marijuana, including veterans, and are changing their laws,” Blumenauer said, according to the Associated Press. “It is unacceptable for our wounded warriors to be forced out of the VA system to simply seek a recommendation on whether or not medical marijuana is a good treatment option.”  

The amendment would have allowed veterans in 23 states and the District of Columbia to hear about how medical marijuana may or may not help them with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects as many as 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. While the research is lacking, some evidence on supports medical marijuana helping PTSD patients, and some states already allow for its use among these people.

Nevertheless, Republicans weren’t swayed by growing public support for medical marijuana, framing their argument against the amendment as allowing federal employees to break the law or facilitate breaking the law.

“Why in the world would we give a drug that is addictive, that is prohibited under schedule I, that is not accepted for any specific mental disease or disorder and enhances psychosis and schizophrenia, why are we going to give that to our veterans, especially those with PTSD? That is just absolutely insane,” said Rep. John Fleming, a physician, according to The Hill. Blumenauer argued marijuana is not as addictive or dangerous as other currently used drugs like opiates, which nearly two million Americans abuse or depend on, and 16,000 died from in 2013.

While the amendment wasn’t passed this year, the House’s vote concluded with a smaller gap than last year, when Blumenauer’s amendment failed to pass by a 222-195 vote. Perhaps he’ll have better luck next year. 

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