New Bill, VA Change of Heart Might Open Door to Medical Marijuana for Vets

November 11, 2021Hannah Ray Lambert
medical marijuana

If federal cannabis legalization efforts prevail, the VA may consider authorizing health providers to issue medical marijuana cards. Adobe Stock photo.

The head of the Department of Veterans Affairs signaled a willingness Thursday, Nov. 11, to consider allowing health providers to issue medical marijuana cards to veterans, but stressed that any changes at the VA are possible only if federal cannabis laws are softened.

But if a South Carolina lawmaker gets her way, those changes may be on the horizon.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough addressed the topic of medical marijuana during a prerecorded Veterans Day Q&A in which he answered questions posted on Rally Point, an online message board for nearly 2 million current and former US military members. US Marine Corps veteran Mykel Gurule asked whether veterans would ever be able to obtain VA-issued medical marijuana cards, writing, “I know many Vets that can benefit from this, in dealing with pain/ptsd, instead of just pills.”

McDonough responded that the VA is limited by the fact that marijuana remains federally illegal.

veterans affairs
Denis R. McDonough, then the White House chief of staff, delivered remarks at a farewell ceremony for outgoing Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter at the Pentagon Dec. 2, 2013. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Hinton.

“In order to get to a point where we would give those cards, we’re going to need both a change in policy, which I’m looking at, as well as a change in law,” he said.

However, even as McDonough spoke, a South Carolina lawmaker is days away from introducing a law that might make those changes. The website Marijuana Moment reported last week that a new Republican-led legalization bill is being championed as a compromise between “simple descheduling as proposed by other GOP lawmakers and wide-ranging comprehensive legislation” proposed by Democrats.

US Rep. Nancy Mace, a Republican from South Carolina, plans to release the text of her bill Monday, but said in a tweet that it would “put states in the driver’s seat and codify cannabis reforms throughout the United States.”

Marijuana Moment reportedly obtained a draft of the legislation. According to the website, the bill would treat cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol, with a 3.75% excise tax on sales. The measure also prohibits federal employers from discriminating against veterans because of cannabis use and would authorize doctors within the VA to recommend medical cannabis for veterans.

VA medical marijuana
VA Secretary Denis McDonough said it would require changes in both federal law and Department of Veterans Affairs policy in order for VA health providers to prescribe medical marijuana. Photo courtesy of Add Weed via Unsplash.

Alternative therapies such as medical marijuana and even psychedelics have gained popularity among veterans for treating brain conditions related to combat. Texas legislators recently passed a bill directing studies to be conducted on the effectiveness of MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine to treat veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress. Many see the therapies as a more natural alternative to the usual array of pharmaceuticals they’re prescribed.

In an extended comment on the issue, McDonough said he had heard from numerous veterans on the topic.

“I will be very honest, I come to this with views on marijuana, but at the end of the day my personal views are not that important especially when I hear the testaments from so many of our veterans,” he said.

McDonough validated veterans’ concerns about “overreliance on pharmaceuticals” and recommended the VA’s Whole Health program, which includes meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and other treatments for veterans seeking nonpharmaceutical pain management.

“While we continue to work through this question on cannabis, what I’d ask our veterans to do is please talk to your provider about our Whole Health options,” McDonough said. “If you’re worried about prescriptions, raise your concerns.”

Read Next: Meeting God: Powerful Psychedelic Therapy Is Helping Some Wounded Vets Heal

Hannah Ray Lambert
Hannah Ray Lambert

Hannah Ray Lambert is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die who previously covered everything from murder trials to high school trap shooting teams. She spent several months getting tear gassed during the 2020-2021 civil unrest in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not working, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading, and talking about authors and books on her podcast Between Lewis and Lovecraft.

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