Doctors at the Department of Veteran Affairs are currently forbidden from prescribing medical marijuana to patients because it is a federally banned drug. However, new legislation introduced in the Senate on Tuesday would remove the threat of federal prosecution for individuals who use it in states where it is legal.
The Hill reported that the bipartisan Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act is supported by Senators Rand Paul, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand. The legislation would partially legalize medical marijuana at the federal level. It does not address recreational use of the drug.
“This bill seeks to right decades of wrong and end unnecessary marijuana laws,” Booker said. “Right now, our veterans are prohibited from getting the medical marijuana they need to alleviate their pain and suffering.”
“We don’t want doctors to be punished for trying to help people,” Paul said.
Marijuana advocates have stated that one of the biggest victors of the change would be military veterans. Currently, many veterans cannot receive medical marijuana because they cannot afford to go outside the military system for treatment.
At this time, medical marijuana is legal in 23 states, as well as the District of Columbia. The federal government would recognize states’ rights to legalize the drug under the new legislation. However, it would not unilaterally legalize it across the United States.
The legislation addresses the difficulties many veterans face in obtaining medical marijuana recommendations from their doctors.
According to The Hill, this would mean VA doctors would be allowed to recommend medical marijuana as a treatment option for patients in states where it has been legalized. However, other military veterans who live in states without medical marijuana laws would still be prohibited from seeking such treatment options.
“The government shouldn’t prevent doctors from prescribing medicine that has been shown to work,” Gillibrand said.
The controversial issue has resulted in medical marijuana patients being arrested for violating federal laws. This practice would discontinue under the new Senate legislation and patients would not have to fear prosecution as long as state law permitted the legal use of the drug.
Although the Obama administration has said it will no longer enforce the federal laws against medical marijuana, any future president could change that policy. Also, in tune with the legislation, Congress adopted a policy last year in the appropriations bill stating it would not fund federal enforcement against medical marijuana patients.