The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act has been reintroduced in both chambers of Congress. The legislation, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and in the House of Representatives by Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and David Joyce (R-OH), provides a temporary five-year “safe harbor” during which veterans will not be punished for state-legal cannabis use and VA doctors will be able to officially recommend medical cannabis in accordance with state laws. The VA would also be mandated to study the potential benefits of cannabis for veterans to treat pain, PTSD, and other conditions.
While doctors in the VA system are permitted under agency guidelines to discuss cannabis with patients, they are currently forbidden from providing the paperwork necessary to authorize it. This prohibition forces many veterans to pursue advice from out-of-network, out-of-pocket physicians and creates barriers to successful treatment. Many veterans also fear losing benefits and other forms of discrimination for consuming cannabis legally.
“In 41 states and territories and Washington, D.C., doctors and their patients can use medical marijuana to manage pain or treat a wide-range of diseases and disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder – unless those doctors work for the VA and their patients are veterans,” Sen. Schatz said in a press release. “Our bill will protect veteran patients in these jurisdictions, give VA doctors the option to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, and shed light on how medical marijuana can help address the nation’s opioid epidemic.”
Similar language has been approved by both chambers in the past as part of appropriations legislation, but was removed from those bills before their final passage.
The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act is the latest of several cannabis policy bills introduced so far in the 118th Congress to benefit veterans. The Veterans Cannabis for Safe Healing Act, which would prevent veterans from losing VA benefits for legal cannabis use, was introduced by Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) in the House in February. Another bill to increase veterans’ access to medical cannabis by empowering VA doctors to recommend it, the Veterans Equal Access Act, was reintroduced in the House in April by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) with bipartisan cosponsorship. The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, which would require the VA to conduct studies on the potential benefits of cannabis for veterans, was introduced in both chambers and was approved by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
A study published in March 2023 showed that one in ten veterans reported consuming cannabis in the past year, and veterans frequently report using cannabis to treat serious medical conditions or to minimize their use of pharmaceutical drugs and other dangerous substances.
Additional information is available from NORML’s fact-sheet, ‘Marijuana and Veterans Issues.’