Sen. Bill Nelson filed a bill last week that would provide veterans with access to medical marijuana at the VA and open doors for more research on the drug.
The bill would allow VA doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans in the 31 states where it is legal.
“In states where medical marijuana is available, veterans certainly ought to have it in the federal veterans administration medical system,” Nelson said.
Since marijuana is still considered illegal at the federal level, doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs are prohibited from prescribing it to veterans and research cannot be done to determine its efficacy at treating conditions from pain to PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.
Nelson’s bill, which is cosponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, would provide $10 million for research into the use of marijuana to treat veterans in pain and $5 million to study how access to medical marijuana may reduce opioid abuse among veterans.
“If we are serious about helping our veterans to give them the quality of life out of respect for what they have done in service to the country and if we know that veterans coming back more recently from Afghanistan and Iraq are having such severe pain issues … then we ought to be helping them,” Nelson said. “The last thing we want to happen is for them to get addicted to opioids.”
Nearly 60 percent of veterans who return from service in the Middle East and more than 50 percent of older vets who use the VA are living with chronic pain, Nelson said.
Veterans in Florida and other states have been pushing the federal government to reclassify marijuana to reflect its medical value. Marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 drug, along with heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
The American Legion polled its 2 million members and found that 92 percent favored more Marijuana research. The organization's members are war veterans and 22 percent reported using marijuana for medical reasons.
The group has since pushed Congress to reclassify marijuana but that request has gone nowhere.
At a recent stop in Orlando, new VA Secretary Robert Wilkie says he's got to follow the rules.
“I'm not a doctor, never played one on television,” Wilkie said. “I'm not a scientist. I will follow the federal law. And the federal law is very clear.”