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The U.S. Senate has passed a measure that will allow veterans living in legal medical marijuana states to take advantage of those programs without negative consequences from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Passed on the eve of Veterans Day, the legislation would allow Veterans Health Administration doctors to discuss medical marijuana use with patients for the first time.

CONGRESS.GOV
The bill includes a provision prohibiting the VA from interfering with or denying services to veterans participating in state-approved medicinal marijuana programs.
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(Sec. 246) Prohibits funds provided by this bill from being used to: interfere with the ability of veterans to participate in a state-approved medicinal marijuana program, deny services to veterans participating in a program, or interfere with the ability of a VA health care provider care to comply with a program.

Current federal regulations prohibit doctors who work for the V.A. from recommending cannabis as part of treatment, regardless of whether the patient lives in on of the 23 states that have laws allowing for medicinal use.

Federal law has prevented V.A. doctors from consulting with veterans on cannabis because of its status as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (1970), which claims that cannabis has a high potential for abuse, or has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. The listing places puts cannabis in the same category as heroin under the stated guidelines.

The federal prohibition forces veterans to seek guidance and necessary paperwork from the private sector. Laws also vary in the 23 states with legal medical cannabis programs. Some states allow only a small number of conditions to be treated with cannabis because of poorly written laws, while other states have loose guidelines.

This victory is only one hurdle in the movement to give veterans greater access to medical cannabis. The Senate bill is different from the House bill which passed in May 2015 and will have to be reconciled before it becomes law. In late April, House lawmakers rejected the companion amendment in a close vote 213-210. Tt was revealed the next day that 2 “no” votes could have been “yes” votes, changing the outcome of the vote and accepting the amendment.

One of the “no” votes came from Democratic Rep. John Garamendi of California, who says he mistakenly voted against it because he “misread the amendment” before voting. “I support medical marijuana,” he said in May 2015. Another “no” vote came from Republican Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) who commented that the amendment didn’t go far enough. 35 Republicans voted in favor during the failed vote.

It is unclear when the House of Representatives will vote on the Senate bill. However, the issue may become part of the larger budget battle as the current agreement funding the federal government expires December 11th, possibly leading to a government shutdown.

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