Congress Proposes Access to Medical Marijuana for Veterans

By McCarton Ackerman 12/01/14

In a rare show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans are coming together to help our wounded warriors.

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Republicans and Democrats are coming together on new legislation that would allow medical marijuana access from Department of Veteran Affairs' doctors for those struggling with stress and anxiety disorders.

The Veterans Equal Access Act was created by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif). It will challenge the current Veteran Affairs' policy that forbids doctors from consulting about medical pot use or prescribing it as a treatment, even in states where it's legal.

Blumenauer said in a statement that over 20% of the 2.8 million American veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD and depression, while the rate of opioid overdose deaths among VA patients is double the national average.

“We should be allowing these wounded warriors access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana, not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows," he said.

Twenty-three states currently permit marijuana for medical use, but the federal government still classifies it as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. But Blumenauer believes this classification has the opposite effect of its intent by leading veterans to substances that are far more harmful.

“It forces veterans into the black market to self-medicate,” he said. “It prevents doctors from giving their best and honest advice and recommendations. And it pushes both doctors and their patients toward drugs that are potentially more harmful and more addictive. It’s insane, and it has to stop.”

VA doctors may not be able to prescribe marijuana, but they’ve had little issue doling out prescription painkillers. On average, servicemen and women are prescribed narcotic painkillers three times more often than their civilian counterparts. Many of these drugs are often either misprescribed or overprescribed.

"They're using psych drugs off label—way, way, way off label," said Dr. Richard Friedman, Director of the Psychopharmacology Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College. “They are not using them to treat the major disorders for which these drugs are designed…they had unprecedented levels of stress in a group of otherwise healthy people…I think they resorted to psychopharmacology as a means to keep people in active duty."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.