The legalization of marijuana in several states has opened up a wide range of options and treatments for various medical conditions. As more states consider authorizing the medical use of marijuana, a growing number of voices among the veteran community urge the Department of Veterans Affairs to reconsider VA policy on medical cannabis.

Previous attempts have been made in an attempt to lift restrictions, not only for veterans, but the country as a whole. One such attempt was House Resolution 5520, The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018, which would have given the VA authorization for medical marijuana research. However, this bill was not passed.

The last attempt to date was the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE) and it was passed in the House Judiciary Committee in 2019. This Act does a lot more than just allow research, but completely removes marijuana as a schedule 1 controlled substance. This would allow usage by any public citizen or veteran without repercussions. It however does not override the DoD policy which strongly prohibits any usage for active duty. While this Act provides much more, including preventing the denial of public benefits to those who use cannabis and other laws, it has not been officially signed into law as of yet.

Defense Department -vs- VA Policy On Marijuana

The Department of Defense (DoD) maintains its’ marijuana prohibition on currently serving military members, however, the VA policy on the use of cannabis by the veteran population is not connected with the official DoD policies.

Those veterans who use marijuana to relieve symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other service-connected medical issues may be afraid to discuss this with a VA care provider out of fear that their VA benefits may be in jeopardy for doing so. Under the policies active at the time of this writing, any substance listed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a Schedule One controlled substance are subject to this prohibition at the VA level, but there is still light at the end of the tunnel. It is safe for veterans to discuss marijuana use with VA staff. Veterans do not need to be concerned with or anticipate punitive measures as a result of informing VA staff of pot use. It is very important to note that this applies to retired or separated military members only. Currently serving troops including members of the Guard/Reserve are still subject to DoD policy on drug use, not VA policy.

The VA official site has a list of rules, information, and reassurances for veterans concerned about being forthright about their medical pot use with a VA caregiver. Specifically:

  • Veterans will not be denied VA benefits because of marijuana use.
  • Veterans are encouraged to discuss marijuana use with their VA providers.
  • VA health care providers will record marijuana use in the Veteran’s VA medical record in order to have the information available in treatment planning. As with all clinical information, this is part of the confidential medical record and protected under patient privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations.
  • VA clinicians may not recommend medical marijuana.
  • VA clinicians may not prescribe products containing Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Cannabidiol (CBD), or any other cannabinoids.

This is a partial list, but the full list may be viewed here.

It is also important to note that, currently, the VA will not pay for any prescription marijuana regardless of the source and VA rules forbid the use or possession of pot on any VA facility.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, like all federal agencies, observes the Food and Drug Administration prohibition on marijuana as it is understood at the time of this writing. Because marijuana is still classified as a Schedule One controlled substance, veterans who use medical marijuana would technically not be eligible for VA employment or would be rendered ineligible should they fail to pass a drug test issued as a condition of employment or as a condition of continued employment. This may be true of both marijuana and marijuana derivatives such as cannabidiol, which are themselves not illegal but may cause a positive result for marijuana on a drug test.