The Push for Veterans’ Access to Medical Cannabis: Exploring the Veterans Equal Access Act

by Haley Mills · May 9, 2023

Discover the importance of the Veterans Equal Access Act and its impact on veterans’ access to medical cannabis. Join us as we explore the push for this crucial legislation and how it can improve the lives of those who have served our country.

veterans access to medical cannabis

The Veterans Equal Access Act, a bipartisan bill recently reintroduced in Congress, aims to grant military veterans access to medical marijuana by permitting doctors at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare facilities to issue recommendations for state-legal medical cannabis. The legislation has gained broad support from veterans, cannabis policy reform groups, and regulated cannabis industry representatives. 

The bill has yet to be passed despite being introduced several times in recent years. Here, we’ll go over the details of the Veterans Equal Access Act and its potential implications for veterans seeking medical cannabis treatment.

Barriers to Medical Cannabis for Veterans

Under the current regulations, VA doctors are not allowed to complete the paperwork necessary for military veterans to use medical marijuana in states that have legalized the medicinal use of cannabis. Healthcare providers in the VA system are forbidden from making medical cannabis recommendations, even in states where it is legal for medical use. This forces many military veterans to seek advice from private, out-of-network physicians, often at significant expense.

Increasing Demand for Medical Cannabis among Veterans

Veterans increasingly turn to medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids and other conventional medications for chronic pain, PTSD, and anxiety. A recent study showed that one in ten veterans reported consuming cannabis at least once in the past year. National polling indicates that 75% of military veterans would consider using cannabis as a treatment option if it were available.

Addressing the Opioid Crisis among Veterans

The opioid crisis has disproportionately affected military veterans, who often suffer from chronic pain and mental health conditions resulting from their service. By allowing VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis, the Veterans Equal Access Act could play a significant role in reducing veterans’ reliance on prescription opioids and mitigating the risks associated with their use.

Veterans are often prescribed a cocktail of opioids and other medications to manage their pain, anxiety, and depression. As demonstrated by Rep. Brian Mast’s personal experience, these potent narcotics can lead to many side effects and even addiction. Medical cannabis has shown promise as an effective alternative treatment option for pain relief and managing PTSD symptoms, with fewer side effects and lower risks of addiction.

Furthermore, studies have found that states with legal medical cannabis programs experience decreased opioid prescriptions and overdose deaths. Providing veterans with access to medical cannabis through the VA healthcare system could reduce the number of opioids prescribed and help curb the opioid crisis within the veteran community.

By supporting the Veterans Equal Access Act, lawmakers can empower VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis as a viable alternative to opioids for veterans in need. This move could lead to improved health outcomes and a safer treatment landscape for the brave men and women who have served our country.

The Path to Legislative Success

Despite being introduced several times and gaining approval at the committee level, the Veterans Equal Access Act still needs to be passed. The bill’s reintroduction, with 15 co-sponsors, signals renewed efforts to push the legislation through. The bill’s language is also expected to be offered as an amendment to federal spending legislation this year.

Next Steps: MMJ for Veterans

The Veterans Equal Access Act represents a significant step toward expanding medical cannabis access for military veterans suffering from chronic pain, PTSD, and other severe medical conditions. If passed, the bill would allow VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis in compliance with state laws, providing veterans with a more affordable and accessible route to explore medical cannabis as a treatment option. With broad bipartisan support, it is crucial for Congress to advance this critical legislation, as it can potentially improve the lives of countless veterans seeking relief from their medical conditions.

Last Updated: January 30, 2024

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