On Wednesday evening, the House voted down an amendment that would allow veterans the opportunity to discuss medical cannabis as a form of treatment in states that have legalized the substance for medical purposes.
Introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the amendment would have altered the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act to allow qualified veterans easier access to medical cannabis in the 21 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized medical marijuana.
The Department of Veterans Affairs currently bans physicians from recommending state-legal medical marijuana to veteran patients.
Blumenauer’s amendment wouldn't have allowed VA doctors to prescribe or provide medical marijuana to veteran patients, but it would have allowed for the physicians to have open discussions with their patients and kept VA funding from being used to implement medical marijuana prohibition. The amendment text, via Blumenauer's office, read:
None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to implement Veterans Health Administration directive 2011-004 with respect to the prohibition on "VA providers from completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a Veteran’s participation in a State marijuana program."
The amendment was killed by a 225-195 vote. However, Blumenauer said that despite the loss, the vigorous debate and close vote was a signal that progress was being made on medical marijuana issues.
"There was a spirited and very strong floor debate in support of the amendment," Blumenauer said. "The move toward making marijuana reform less of a partisan issue was underscored as there were more Republicans voting for the amendment than Democrats voting against. And, with probable votes of members who were absent, it’s very likely the vote total in favor or my amendment would’ve been 200 or more."
Twenty-two Republicans joined the 173 Democrats who voted in favor of the amendment, while 18 Democrats joined the majority of Republicans who voted against it.
"It’s inexplicable and inexcusable that VA doctors can’t answer their patients’ questions and give their best advice," Blumenauer added.
The VA estimates that as many as 20 percent of soldiers who recently served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have post-traumatic stress disorder, according to The Associated Press. Scientists have speculated that marijuana could help veterans suffering from PTSD symptoms, which can include anxiety, flashbacks and depression.
Earlier this year, the federal government signed off on a historic study looking at marijuana as a treatment for veterans with PTSD. The study will examine the effects of five different potencies of smoked or vaporized cannabis on 50 veterans suffering from PTSD.
Currently, there are ten states that allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana for PTSD-related symptoms.