VA Enables Vets to Discuss Marijuana Use With Doctors Without Losing Benefits

Department still prohibited from prescribing cannabis.

The Veterans Affairs Department is now allowing its doctors to discuss medical marijuana with patients, according to a new directive.

The department’s physicians located in states that have legalized medicinal marijuana, which is still labeled a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, may consult with veterans about their use of and options regarding cannabis. VA doctors were previously prohibited from engaging in such discussion, and veterans who broached the topic with their medical providers have reported feeling shunned after being treated like drug addicts.

The Veterans Health Administration directed employees, including pharmacists, to talk to patients about how their state-approved marijuana used to treat “medical or psychiatric symptoms or conditions” may impact other aspects of their overall care. For example, the providers should discuss how marijuana will interact with additional medications or other pain management or post-traumatic stress disorder treatments.

VA’s medical providers are still prohibited from “recommending, making referrals to or completing paperwork for veteran participation in state marijuana programs.” In fact, VA said in its directive, veterans who bring legal marijuana onto department property are subject to prosecution. The department also instructed medical facility directors to remind employees they are still banned from using marijuana.  

Discussions involving marijuana must be noted in the veteran’s medical record, the department said. Doctors cannot block veterans from any VHA services solely because they legally use marijuana.

The announcement was seen as a victory for American Legion, which counts millions of veterans among its members and has in recent years advocated a loosening of VA’s policies regarding medicinal marijuana.  

“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,” said Denise Rohan, the legion’s national commander. “We are pleased that the VA is now taking the full medical history of these veterans into consideration when evaluating their physical and mental health.”

Rohan added this announcement was merely “an encouraging step in the right direction,” as her group continues to call on the federal government to remove marijuana as a Schedule I drug.