U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz reintroduced a bill on Friday that would allow doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans in states that already have established medical marijuana programs.
The Senate bill, officially called the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, would create a temporary five-year window for veterans to use medical marijuana. It also would direct the VA to research how medical marijuana impacts veterans trying to manage chronic pain and if it could help reduce opioid abuse.
“In 36 states, doctors and their patients have the option to use medical marijuana to manage pain — unless those doctors work for the VA and their patients are veterans,” the Hawaii Democrat said in a press release.
Hawaii is one of those states; in 2000 it became the first to legalize medical marijuana.
“This bill protects veteran patients in these states and gives their VA doctors the option to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, and it also promises to shed light on how medical marijuana can help with the nation’s opioid epidemic,” said Schatz.
Schatz first introduced the bill in 2019. It was co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Bernie Sanders, Tim Kaine and Jacky Rosen, but it ultimately languished in the Senate Judiciary Committee without a hearing.
The reintroduced bill has gained co-sponsorship from Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden. A companion bill in the House of Representatives was introduced by California Democrat Barbara Lee and Ohio Republican Dave Joyce.
The bill has the backing of several veteran and drug policy organizations, including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, VoteVets, Minority Veterans of America, U.S. Pain Foundation, Drug Policy Alliance, Americans for Safe Access, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Veteran’s Initiative 22.
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Kevin Knodell covers the military and veterans in Hawaii and the greater Pacific for Civil Beat as a corps member for Report For America, a national nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms.