The Department of Veterans Affairs will formally allow patients treated at its hospitals and clinics to use medical marijuana in states where it is legal, a policy clarification that veterans have sought for several years.
A department directive, expected to take effect next week, resolves the conflict in veterans facilities between federal law, which outlaws marijuana, and the 14 states that allow medicinal use of the drug, effectively deferring to the states.
The policy will not permit department doctors to prescribe marijuana. But it will address the concern of many patients who use the drug that they could lose access to their prescription pain medication if caught.
Under department rules, veterans can be denied pain medications if they are found to be using illegal drugs. Until now, the department had no written exception for medical marijuana.
This has led many patients to distrust their doctors, veterans say. With doctors and patients pressing the veterans department for formal guidance, agency officials began drafting a policy last fall.
“When states start legalizing marijuana we are put in a bit of a unique position because as a federal agency, we are beholden to federal law,” said Dr. Robert Jesse, the principal deputy under secretary for health in the veterans department.
At the same time, Dr. Jesse said, “We didn’t want patients who were legally using marijuana to be administratively denied access to pain management programs.” Read the rest of this entry »