What Are My Rights to Marijuana Access as a Veteran?


How Current Federal Marijuana Laws Impact Veterans

The federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that marijuana is still illegal according to the federal government. For veterans, this means that healthcare providers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs cannot recommend cannabis as a treatment option or assist veterans in obtaining it.

Instead, veterans are often overprescribed opioids as treatments for combat-related injuries, chronic pain, PTSD, and other disorders. As a result, veterans have been heavily impacted by the opioid overdose crisis and, according to research published by the National Institute of Health, rates of overdose mortality among veterans have increased by 53% from 2010-2019.

In fact, veterans are twice as likely to die from opioid related overdoses than nonveterans.

Existing scientific research has shown promising results for the treatment of chronic pain and PTSD, making it a particularly attractive as an alternative to existing treatment options for veterans who suffer from these and other illnesses as a result of their service. However, marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug has impeded expansive medical marijuana research on the federal level.

The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, which would give federal sanction to veterans to use, possess, and transport medical marijuana in any state where medical marijuana is legal, would allow VA physicians to discuss, recommend, complete forms for, or register veterans for treatment programs involving medical marijuana in states where medical marijuana is legal. The bipartisan group of congresspeople sponsoring the bill have found that “states with medical cannabis laws have a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.”

In recent years, Veterans Affairs has published new guidelines for veterans in regards to marijuana use. While VA healthcare providers remain prohibited from recommending or prescribing marijuana, they “can and do discuss marijuana use with Veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.” The guidelines also state that:

  • Veterans cannot be denied VA benefits because of marijuana use.
  • Veterans are encouraged to discuss marijuana use with their VA healthcare provider.
  • If they do so, VA healthcare providers will record the veteran’s marijuana use in their confidential medical record, which is subject to patient privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations.
  • VA healthcare providers cannot complete forms for veterans to participate in state marijuana programs.
  • The use of marijuana is prohibited at VA medical centers even in states where marijuana is legal according to state law, which are subject to federal and not state laws.
  • Veterans who are VA employees are subject to drug testing as federal employees.

How California Marijuana Laws Impact Veterans

Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, when it became the first state to do so. Today, both medical and recreational marijuana are legal in California. Despite legalization, California veterans still experience difficulty gaining access to marijuana. In San Diego County, where there are over 240,000 veterans, local restrictions and licensing caps make it even more difficult for veterans to access cannabis legally.

In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law SB-34, The Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act, which enabled the establishment of medical marijuana compassionate care programs. Since its passage, non-profit organizations like Weed for Warriors and Veterans Cannabis Coalition have helped to deliver donations to veterans who are in need.

As a veteran-owned business, we at Purdy & Bailey, LLP are proud to support veterans’ rights to access marijuana. We know how vital legal marijuana access can be for a veteran. Whether you are interested in starting a marijuana business or are concerned that your rights to access legal marijuana are being infringed upon, our experienced team of marijuana business law attorneys is ready to help you.

If you are a veteran seeking legal counsel regarding cannabis, contact us today at (858) 360-7080 to book a consultation.

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