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House Votes to Lift Gag on VA Doctors

On May 19, the House of Representatives approved a budget amendment that clears the way for Veterans Health Administration physicians to provide veterans with the recommendations they need to participate in state medical cannabis programs. Current federal policy prohibits VA doctors from providing such documentation or even discussing medical cannabis with their patients, though physicians are protected by the First Amendment.

The bipartisan Veterans Equal Access Amendment (VEAA) to the FY2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilConVA) Appropriations bill passed by a vote of 233-189, with 57 Republicans and 176 Democrats supporting it. A similar bill lost last year by just three votes.

The just-passed VEAA would forbid the VA from using any funds to punish physicians who write recommendations or discuss benefits of medical cannabis therapy with their patients. A 2011 VHA directive allows veterans who are medical cannabis patients to continue to receive medical care through their VA doctors and hospitals but imposes a gag order on physicians.

“I can tell you for certain, with every ounce of my integrity, that without the benefits of medical cannabis, I would not be standing here before you all today,“ said former US Army Captain Eric Gudz (pictured at right), who lobbied members of the House as part of ASA’s effort to pass the amendment.

Many veterans use medical cannabis to treat a host of ailments associated with military service, including chronic pain, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, phantom limb syndrome, cancer, and depression.

If signed by the President, the VEAA will have to be renewed next year. The CARERS Act, currently awaiting a hearing in both houses, would make this provision permanent.

“We are pleased that both the House and Senate have made it clear that the Veterans Administration should not punish doctors for recommending medical cannabis to their veteran patients,” said Michael Liszewski, ASA Government Affairs Director. “We anticipate this amendment will reach the President, and once signed, it will give VA physicians another tool in their toolbox to treat the healthcare needs of America’s veterans.”

The amendment was introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and cosponsored by Reps. Farr (D-CA), Gallego (D-AZ), Heck (R-NV), Lee (D-CA), Polis (D-CO), Reed (R-NY), Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Titus (D-CA).

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