IAVA veterans have sounded off and clearly demanded: 2018 is the year we will be heard on the important and emerging health issue of utilizing cannabis to treat injuries of war. Veterans consistently and passionately have communicated that cannabis offers effective help in tackling some of the most pressing injuries we face when returning from war. In our latest Member Survey, only 15% opposed legalization for medical use. The youngest of the Post-9/11 generation are most supportive; with about three-fourths of IAVA members under 35 supporting the allowance of medical marijuana. Across party lines, medical cannabis is largely unopposed. Yet our national policies are outdated, research is lacking, and stigma persists. In 2018, IAVA members will set out to change that and launch a national conversation underscoring the need for bipartisan, data-based, common-sense solutions that can bring relief to millions, save taxpayers billions and create thousands of jobs for veterans nationwide. Those solutions must include the approval of medical cannabis for every veteran in America who needs it.
Our nation is rapidly moving toward legalizing cannabis, and twenty nine states now permit medical cannabis. Yet, as with many innovative solutions to veteran needs, progress on this issue within the VA has been slow and incremental–and lags behind the needs of veterans and the changing reality of state-level laws. There has been marginal progress, as in late 2017, when the Veterans Health Administration issued a policy change which urged patients to discuss medical marijuana use with their doctors. This policy change alleviates previous concern that admitting to cannabis use could jeopardize VA bene ts, a policy recommendation noted in IAVA’s Policy Agenda. But VA physicians still cannot refer patients to legally sanctioned state medical cannabis programs because of the federal prohibition. Moreover, patients are not allowed to have any cannabis on VA property, even if it is medically recommended to them and the state they are living in allows it. And VA employees are still barred from using any form of cannabis, including medical cannabis, while roughly one-third of VA employees are veterans and may want access to cannabis as a treatment option.
Further, in opposition to strong and rising popular opinion across the veterans community, the VA Secretary announced in early 2018 that the VA will not conduct research into whether medical cannabis could help veterans suffering from PTSD and chronic pain. This is despite protest from many in the VSO community who posit medical cannabis could serve as an alternative to opioids and antidepressants. A January 2017 National Academy of Sciences study that stated: there was “conclusive or substantial” evidence that cannabis is effective in treating chronic pain, moderate evidence that cannabis helps with sleep (there is additional research that shows the link between lack of sleep and suicidal ideation), limited evidence in improving anxiety symptoms, and limited evidence in improving PTSD symptoms.
In 2018 IAVA will:
- Call on Congress to pass legislation to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III drug from a Schedule I drug.
- Push to close the loopholes in VA policy which inhibit the discussion of cannabis usage between veterans and VA clinicians.
- Press the VA and private medical community to conduct research into the use of medical cannabis as a treatment option for chronic pain and mental health injuries.
- Push to update current VA medical cannabis policy to allow for VA clinicians to provide recommendations and opinions to patients regarding medical cannabis programs.
- Call for support to Senate FY
2018 Commerce/Justice/Science Appropriations (S.1662/Sect.
538) language that prohibits the Department of Justice from preventing implementation of state cannabis access laws, including for medical purposes.
- Continue to monitor and share IAVA members opinions on all elements of evolving cannabis policy–to include the growing support for allowance of recreational use.
- Where permitted, continue to connect, unite and empower post- 9/11 veterans seeking legal cannabis support options through our digital resources, our local VetTogether events and our nationally-recognized Rapid Response Referral Program (RRRP).