WASHINGTON — In two separate actions, the U.S. House and Senate this week moved to make it easier for military veterans to access medical marijuana — efforts that were largely, but not unanimously, supported by Colorado’s congressional delegation.
The first step was a House vote Thursday on an amendment to a budget bill for the VA and military construction that would allow doctors with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend pot as treatment to veterans in states where medical marijuana is legal, which is roughly half the country.
The Senate took a similar approach in its own version of the spending measure by neutering a VA policy that had prohibited this practice.
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Both measures easily passed their respective chambers.
The House approved the marijuana amendment by a 233-189 vote and the Senate on Thursday passed its spending measure, in which the pot policy change was included, by an 89-8 margin.
Five of Colorado’s seven lawmakers in the House supported the amendment, including U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, who co-authored the provision.
“Veterans whose doctors believe that medical marijuana will help them address medical issues such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or chronic pain should be afforded that option,” said Polis in a statement.
Another supporter of the House amendment was veteran and U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora.
He said in a phone interview that the marijuana provision wasn’t an easy vote but — given the number of combat veterans dealing with PTSD — that he’s willing to give it a try.
“I tend to be more open on alternative therapies,” he said.
The state’s two no votes were from U.S. Reps. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, and Scott Tipton, R-Cortez. Both pointed to the fact that marijuana remains listed as a federally controlled substance as a reason to oppose it.
“It’s bad policy to place VA doctors (who are federal employees) in a position where they could potentially violate federal law by discussing/prescribing medical marijuana,” said Tipton aide Josh Green in a statement.
Colorado’s two U.S. Senators, Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, both supported the underlying bill with the marijuana provision.
One of the nation’s biggest veteran groups, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, has taken a wait-and-see approach to the legislation.
“It is illegal by federal law, but if proven to help sick or disabled veterans, then perhaps the federal government should allow it, provided its effects do not compromise existing treatments or medications prescribed by licensed medical professionals,” said spokesman Joe Davis. “More research needs to be done.”