Why it’s now easier for U.S. veterans to access medical marijuana

In Feature Stories, Regulatory, Veterans by David Silverberg

The U.S. Department of Veteran affairs has clarified its policy to allow patients treated at its hospitals and clinics to use medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

Taking effect this week, the new directive won’t permit department doctors to prescribe marijuana, as the New York Times writes. “But it will address the concern of many patients who use the drug that they could lose access to their prescription pain medication if caught,” the report adds.

Some military veterans fear they will be denied pain medication if they are found using a drug considered illegal by the U.S. government. But under this new policy tweak, the rules are being deferred to the states, 19 of which allow access to medical marijuana.

Dr. Robert Jesse, the principal deputy under secretary for health in the veterans department, said in an interview: “We didn’t want patients who were legally using marijuana to be administratively denied access to pain management programs.”

Veterans have said cannabis helps ease physical and psychological pain and can alleviate the side effects of some treatments. In May, researchers in Israel discovered marijuana can be beneficial treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and related conditions.

Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, which favors the legal regulation of the drug, labelled the decision historic. “We now have a branch of the federal government accepting marijuana as a legal medicine,” he said, according to the Times.

A 2011 survey of more than 5,400 U.S. veterans found 11 percent of respondents admitted to using marijuana in the past year.

Photo via U.S. Army Flickr account