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VA to allow health providers to discuss medical marijuana with veterans

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In a policy shift, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will allow VA health providers to talk to veterans about medical marijuana, according to a directive issued Dec. 8. The policy ends rules that prohibited VA providers from discussing marijuana with their patients, even in states where it was approved for medical use.

The directive references marijuana’s “clinical relevance to patient care” and encourages VA health providers and pharmacists to discuss how state-approved medical marijuana uses may relate to a veteran’s overall treatment.

But the directive, citing the Controlled Substances Act, still does not allow VA providers to prescribe cannabis to veterans, nor does it allow them to register veterans to participate in state medical marijuana programs.

The American Legion applauds the @deptvetaffairs Directive 1315 which helps clarify access to Veterans Health Administration clinical programs for #veterans participating in state-approved #MedicalCannabis programs.

— American Legion DC (@LegioninDC) December 20, 2017

Major veterans’ groups are hailing the change of policy. Denise Rohan, national commander of the American Legion, the county’s largest veterans’ advocacy organization, said in a Twitter statement, “The American Legion applauds the Department of Veterans Affairs.” Rohan added, “This updated policy will help encourage veterans using medical cannabis to more openly and fully discuss their healthcare options with VA medical providers - with full reassurance that their VA benefits remain secure.”

Rocky Mountain PBS previously reported on veterans’ use of marijuana to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Dr. Sue Sisley, who is leading a Colorado-funded study of marijuana and PTSD in veterans, told Insight correspondent Lori Jane Gliha in October that she was having difficulty recruiting participants for the $2.1 million study, which is taking place in Arizona. “The biggest blockade right now…is the fact that the Phoenix VA hospital will not allow us access,” Sisley said.

In Lori Jane’s report, Phoenix VA public affairs officer Paul Coupaud cited federal law as a reason the Phoenix VA would not facilitate access to patients for marijuana-related research. Coupaud reiterated that policy to RMPBS today. He said Phoenix VA health providers are not allowed to promote research that takes place outside the VA system, even under the new directive.