Op/Ed: Veterans and Marijuana; sticky circumstances

By Tyler Dylan Brown
The Guardsman

Up until very recently, the only Veteran’s Health Administration policy regarding medical marijuana was that if a patient was using marijuana, medical or otherwise, they would be disqualified from receiving other prescriptions for controlled pharmaceutical  substances.

This means vets who have medical marijuana prescriptions are not allowed to receive any other medication from their doctors.

The VHA announced on July 22, 2010 that a state-sanctioned medical marijuana prescription would not disqualify a patient from receiving prescribed scheduled (controlled) substances.

Despite this announcement however, VHA doctors and pharmacists are still directed to deny access to controlled substances to those knowingly using “illegal drugs”.

This is where things get murky because although medical marijuana is legal in a number of states, it still remains illegal under federal law. This discrepancy gives doctor’s total freedom to avoid the issue altogether.

Doctors under the VHA follow federal law because they are federal employees. It is much safer for them to just deny patients who need powerful pain and cancer medications simply because they also use medical marijuana.

VHA doctors also claim to be uncertain of the drug interactions and potential side effects of mixing marijuana with prescribed pharmaceuticals.

Federal government enforces this by defining schedule 1 substances as having no currently accepted medical use.

There has been some progress made on the issue. The VHA has gone from officially blacklisting medical marijuana patients to leaving them to the will of their primary care provider.

This doesn’t help as much as you’d think – veterans must still petition the VHA to change doctors until one can be found who is actually brave enough to care for cannabis patients.

Veterans deserve the best possible health care they can receive which may include a prescription for marijuana, but doctors at the VHA do not want to risk losing their medical license or be prosecuted for violating federal law.

A clearer policy with less room for interpretation is needed immediately. There is no reason patients should avoid seeking health care just because of a conflict between state and federal law.

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