May 13, 2019

Moulton, Gaetz Introduce Bills to Reform VA Medical Marijuana Practices, Study Marijuana as an Alternative to Opioids

WASHINGTON – Today, Representatives Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) introduced a package of bills that would update medical marijuana practices at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to reporting in The Boston Globe, “millions of American military veterans — more than 1 in 5, according to an American Legion survey — use marijuana to treat a medical ailment.” Taken together, the bills introduced today would allow veterans to discuss using cannabis with their doctors, direct the VA to study cannabis use among veterans, and offer VA health care providers more education about cannabis.

“Veterans want an alternative to opioids, and Congress should support them,” Moulton said. “Let’s not kid ourselves: people are using marijuana - including our veterans. Rather than ignoring this reality, Congress should let doctors talk with their patients about it, and we should learn more about cannabis so it can be safely used and properly regulated. We have a long road ahead of us until medicinal cannabis is fully-researched and legal, but a few steps now will speed that along. Veterans deserve the best healthcare in the world. This is a step in that direction.”

Gaetz said: “Medical cannabis has tremendous potential for veterans. It can reduce chronic pain, without the harmful side effects of opioids, and some early reports indicate that it may even have potential as a treatment for PTSD. Unfortunately, many veterans fear discussing medical cannabis with their doctors, for fear that their benefits will be jeopardized. I am proud to cosponsor Congressman Moulton’s bills, which will protect veterans’ benefits, and will advance scientific knowledge about medical cannabis. This small step will make a big difference to veterans nationwide.”

Moulton and Gaetz introduced the following bills:

1. VA Policy for Medical Cannabis Use Act of 2019

  • Currently, veterans receiving health care at the VA are not allowed to discuss marijuana with their health care providers and can be denied their VA benefits if it is discovered that they use marijuana. This bill would change those rules and encourage veterans to discuss their medicinal cannabis use with their healthcare providers without fear of negative repercussions. It prohibits the government from denying VA benefits because of a veteran’s cannabis use.
  • The bill would also enable veterans to participate in State-legal cannabis programs without losing their eligibility for VA care and services.
  • The bill affirms that VA medical providers should honor a patient's desire for alternative forms of treatment, and would direct the VA to acknowledge medical cannabis as a legitimate "alternative treatment".

2. The VA Survey of Cannabis Use Act of 2019

  • This bill directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to partner with a federally-funded research & development center that will study how veterans use cannabis, their experiences and any side effects of use. It also requires the Secretary to give that study to Congress where it will inform policy.

3. Training for VA Primary Care Providers Act of 2019

  • This bill directs the VA to provide training in the use of medical cannabis for all VA primary care providers, and requires the VA to enter into partnerships with medical schools that have incorporated education on medical cannabis into their curricula so health care providers can learn more.

Representatives Darren Soto (D-FL), Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Charlie Crist (D-FL) joined Moulton and Gaetz as original co-sponsors.