Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., on Wednesday sent an open letter to Sen. Mark Kirk requesting that Kirk change course on his views on medical marijuana. Pictured: In this Jan. 7, 2015, file photo Blumenauer, right, talks with Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center in Washington. (Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

Fight continues in Congress over allowing VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana with patients

Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer writes open letter to Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk: 'Are you really opposed to giving doctors more options to treat our nation’s veterans?'

Congressman Earl Blumenauer is continuing a push to allow Veterans Affairs doctors to discuss medical marijuana with their patients after a legislative measure on the topic was axed in the “dead of night.”

Rep. Blumenauer, D-Ore., on Wednesday published an open letter to Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., requesting he change course and support the proposal.

Earlier this year, medical marijuana proponents thought they achieved a significant legislative victory — the House and Senate both gave green lights to amendments in a military spending bill that allowed VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana with their patients in states where it’s legal.

When the legislation was finalized, the language was not included. It was stripped in the “dead of night” by House Republicans on the same night that House Democrats staged a sit-in for gun safety, Blumenauer charged in a statement issued on June 24.

In Wednesday’s letter, Blumenauer, an advocate for marijuana law reform, said that Kirk had introduced “unwelcome mockery” into the debate when he stated: “I don’t think we have too few high veterans out there.”

“Our veterans are returning home with injuries that are both visible and unseen — experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries, chronic pain, and more,” Blumenauer wrote. “These wounded warriors should be treated with dignity, respect, and concern, and we should be helping them access the care they need. It is simply unconscionable that instead, you disparage them as drug addicts. Your statement is not only inappropriate, but dismissive of the serious issues faced by our veterans.”

In a phone interview Wednesday with The Cannabist, Blumenauer said he hoped his letter would raise awareness about the issue as well as the stance taken by Kirk, who is seeking re-election.

“I’m just absolutely committed to the public knowing what happened,” Blumenauer said. “There’s going to be some political price that’s paid by this. … People need to understand that this is a very serious issue that makes a great deal of difference to America’s veterans.”

The final bill has yet to be resolved, Blumenauer said, noting that there may be an opportunity to add the medical marijuana proposal. Among the additional options is an omnibus spending bill, he said, adding that he is “not giving up.”

“There may be an opportunity to attach it to another vehicle that is moving,” he said. “There is strong support in both the House and the Senate on a bipartisan basis for protecting this.”

Kirk could not be reached for comment.


Read Blumenauer’s full letter below:

Dear Senator Kirk:

“I don’t think we have too few high veterans out there.”

These were your words about my proposal making it easier for qualified veterans to access state-legal medical marijuana programs.

Our veterans are returning home with injuries that are both visible and unseen—experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries, chronic pain, and more. These wounded warriors should be treated with dignity, respect, and concern, and we should be helping them access the care they need. It is simply unconscionable that instead, you disparage them as drug addicts. Your statement is not only inappropriate, but dismissive of the serious issues faced by our veterans.

We are in crisis mode as opioid addiction and abuse are on the rise, and the risk is higher for veterans, who are frequently prescribed opioids. Of the nearly 1 million veterans who receive opioid treatment for pain, over half continue to consume those pills beyond 90 days. They are dying of opiate overdoses at nearly double the national average.

In many cases, medical marijuana can be a safer, more effective alternative to these highly addictive prescription opioids in treating certain conditions. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), however, prohibits its medical providers from completing forms allowing a qualified veteran to participate in a state medical marijuana program. This outdated and out of touch policy is forcing our veterans outside of the VA system to seek a recommendation for medical marijuana as a possible treatment option in states where it is legal, like Illinois.

The proposal you spoke out against was passed by both the House and Senate with bipartisan votes. It strikes this policy down to allow veterans to consult with their personal VA physician, who know their medical history best, about medical marijuana as a possible treatment option. The proposal in no way requires a VA provider to recommend medical marijuana, but rather makes a conversation on all treatment options between doctor and patient more accessible.

Instead of standing up and fighting for veterans in Illinois and around the country, you, however, introduce unwelcome mockery into the debate. Are you really opposed to giving doctors more options to treat our nation’s veterans? Where is your courage? Where is your sense of moral obligation to help those who served to protect us?

I implore you to show compassion, change course, and support this bipartisan effort.

Sincerely,

Earl Blumenauer
Member of Congress