Members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation have sent a letter urging the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to allow its staff to offer verbal recommendations to veterans on the use of medical marijuana during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As this global pandemic continues to adversely affect veterans’ behavioral and physical health conditions, we believe that veterans who legally use cannabis in the Commonwealth to treat their ailments deserve to receive more robust assistance from qualified medical personnel at their local VA. Upon the end of this public health emergency, we also urge VA to consider making this directive the official policy of the Department going forward,” reads the letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, dated April 15.
The letter is from Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Reps. Katherine Clark, James McGovern, Seth Moulton, Ayanna Pressley and Joseph Kennedy III.
Medical marijuana dispensaries are considered essential business by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and have been allowed to operate during the pandemic. Recreational marijuana, however, was not considered essential by the governor, who has been sued by a group of adult-use stores seeking to reverse the decision.
The current VA policy allows VA providers to discuss marijuana use with patients but also prohibits those providers from “recommending, making referrals to or completing paperwork for veteran participation in State marijuana programs,” the letter notes.
Veterans in Massachusetts and beyond have used marijuana to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, chronic pain and other conditions. Medical marijuana purchases and visits are not covered by VA health care or by private insurance.
“While veterans are not supposed to be denied benefits only because they participate in a state-approved marijuana program, some veterans may be reluctant to seek medical marijuana, in part, because they are concerned that it could threaten their veteran status and their access to other federal benefits due to marijuana remaining prohibited under federal law,” reads a press release from Warren’s office.
Stephen Mandile, a veteran and marijuana advocate, sued Baker along with the group of recreational shops. That lawsuit argues many people, including veterans, have relied on the state’s recreational marijuana program to purchase medicine. Since adult-use sales were halted, the state Cannabis Control Commission has seen a spike in registrations for the medical program.
“For many veterans in Massachusetts, medical marijuana works in treating their health conditions, which can be exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. VA providers can at least ‘discuss’ marijuana use with veterans, and veterans are ‘encouraged’ by the VA to raise the topic as part of their overall care planning. Therefore, during this unprecedented public health emergency, VA should issue a directive explicitly authorizing its health care providers to make sensible, clinically sound verbal recommendations to veterans related to participation in state approved medical marijuana programs and services and to provide advice to veterans as they complete forms and other paperwork reflecting those recommendations,” the letter reads.
Clinicians who provide the assistance should be advised by the VA that they will not be subject to disciplinary action, the letter adds.
“We also urge the VA to work with the Justice Department to formally advise VA providers who conduct these clinical activities that they will not face criminal prosecution under federal marijuana laws,” the letter continues. “By authorizing these tailored, temporary actions, the VA could help Massachusetts veterans who use, or are interested in using, medical marijuana receive more comprehensive clinical advice from their VA providers, reduce opioid addiction and substance use disorders, and achieve better health outcomes.”
With the increase in patient registrations, the CCC has allowed recreational marijuana businesses to support the medical supply chain.
Original story here.