U.S. Senator initiates second attempt to allow veteran medical cannabis prescriptions


Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

On Friday, April 16, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) made a bold move to introduce legislation that would permit doctors in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical cannabis for veterans across 36 states with established programs.

“In 36 states, doctors and their patients have the option to use medical [cannabis] to manage pain, unless those doctors work for the VA and their patients are veterans,” Senator Schatz is quoted as saying. “This bill protects veteran patients in these states and gives their VA doctors the option to prescribe medical [cannabis] to veterans and it also promises to shed light on how medical [cannabis] can help with the nation’s opioid epidemic.”

The bill to allow medical cannabis access for veterans is co-sponsored by a number of U.S. senators, including Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

Aside from granting medical cannabis-using veterans five-year safe harbor protection, the bill also instructs the VA to embark on research initiatives that would assist veterans in understanding precisely how cannabis can curb opioid usage and provide symptomatic relief from chronic pain.

Accompanying legislation has also been put forward for review in the House of Representatives by the U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Dave Joyce (R-Ohio).

The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act is the most powerful reform attempt so far 

No other medical cannabis reform effort of this kind has been attempted before. In fact, Executive Director for the Veterans Cannabis Project, Doug Distaso, believes that this endeavor is the most robust and influential in U.S. history.

“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,” Distaso told reporters. “Veterans Cannabis Project applauds Senator Schatz and Congresswoman Lee for their lead and encourages their colleagues in Congress to support the bill.”

He says that by allowing the VA to serve veterans with medical cannabis prescriptions, ex-servicemen who are desperate to get their lives back on track will be instantly impacted. One of the best parts of the bill, Distaso claims, is the element that covers protection and research advancements. This, the executive director feels, will simplify the process of accessing medicinal cannabis for veterans.

“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,” said the CEO for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Jeremy Butler. “With such overwhelming support, we need to be removing barriers to care for veterans, not maintaining them. 

The IAVA has praised Sen. Schatz for reinstituting the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.

Research shows cannabis may help veterans overcome the symptoms of PTSD 

A significant portion of veterans and ex-servicemen will be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after being exposed to traumatic incidents. The debilitating condition can have a serious impact on mental health, emotional wellbeing and quality of life. In fact, PTSD is heavily associated with suicidal behavior.

Many PTSD sufferers will struggle to overcome their trauma, with some of the most commonly reported cases involving regular panic attacks, emotional instability, nightmares, hypervigilance and flashbacks. Thankfully, cannabis has demonstrated its ability to work as a natural and non-addictive alternative to prescribable opioids, which can prove fatal in high doses. 

A growing body of research supports the idea of using cannabis for veterans. One particular study that was funded by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment revealed positive findings. It was conducted by a team of researchers at The University of Pennsylvania, The University of California San Diego, The University of Colorado, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a number of other educational institutions.

What the researchers discovered was that PTSD patients who consumed cannabis experienced significant reductions in PTSD symptoms. Moreover, the recovery rate from PTSD was 2.57 times higher than it was for non-consumers.

What’s most appealing about cannabis, which reacts with receptors scattered around the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to produce its effects, is the diversity in consumption. Consumers can choose between sublingual, edible, inhalable and oral solutions, to name a few.