Last week, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, signed a bill to allow post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and terminal illnesses to be included as qualifying conditions for Illinois’ medical marijuana program. With a doctor’s approval, patients who suffer from the debilitating conditions can now get access to medical marijuana from their local dispensary. His signature on the bill ensures that the program will be in place until 2020 at minimum. While this all seems like positive news, unfortunately, due to the fact that marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, the Veterans Affairs Hospitals will not allow patients to have access to the herb or allow patients to independently use medical cannabis as PTSD treatment and still receive their VA benefits.
The Limitations of a Schedule I Drug
Marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug, which puts it in the most dangerous category alongside heroin and cocaine. Schedule I drugs are considered to be the highest risk drugs and are determined to have no medical benefits. The herb is illegal on a federal level, making some organizations very nervous about having anything to do with it. PTSD treatment is usually treated with very strong prescription medication that can have a vast array of debilitating side effects. Marijuana has been found to be a very effective treatment for PTSD, with many using it safely around the country.
Threats Against Using Marijuana for PTSD Treatment
The current regulations in place by the VA, state that it is mandatory for veterans to tell the VA if they are using marijuana or other substances. Patients have been informed that if they test positive for THC, it “can and will affect the clinical treatment decisions made by VA healthcare providers.” This means that the VA can deny veterans access to treatment and prescription medications, until the THC is out of their system. The threat of losing VA benefits, medication and treatment is too severe for many veterans who are dependent on VA benefits.
Failed Attempts at Getting Marijuana Treatment for Veterans
The VA was set to update its policies regarding medical marijuana earlier in the year but because of a loophole in their procedures, they didn’t make the necessary changes. Earlier this year, attempts were made in Congress to remedy this issue with the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, which was approved by both chambers. Unfortunately it was covertly dismantled from a major military spending bill. Until marijuana becomes reclassified, declassified or made legal, it’s up to lawmakers in Congress to put the amendment back into play or find another solution. Until then, veterans with PTSD and terminal illnesses will be the ones who suffer.
Medical marijuana is legal in 25 states now and recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and D.C. This November many more states will vote on whether to legalize medical marijuana and 8 states will vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana, including California, Nevada and Maine. It’s clear that over half the country can see the medical benefits of marijuana and it’s been proven to be safer and healthier than cigarettes and alcohol. It seems long overdue for the federal government to change the outdated laws regarding marijuana. For now, veterans looking for PTSD treatment will have a battle ahead of them.