Veterans Administration: Patients Who Use Medical Marijuana Won’t Face Penalties

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Tthe Under Secretary of Health at the Veterans Administration issued a little-noticed directive to VA medical facilities recently, informing facilities that patients who legally use medical marijuana may not be denied access to health services because of their outside prescription. It is the first time the VA has issued such a directive, and comes as the Administration has been quietly relaxing the Bush Administration’s efforts to prosecute medical marijuana growers, dispensaries and users who qualify under state laws.The directive does not allow VA medical personnel to provide patients with prescriptions, as it remains a violation of federal law, but it does allow veterans who are using medical marijuana in conjunction with state law to receive services without penalty — including pain management services. It reads:

VHA policy does not prohibit Veterans who use medical marijuana from participating in VHA substance abuse programs, pain control programs, or other clinical programs where the use of marijuana may be considered inconsistent with treatment goals. Although patients participating in state medical marijuana programs must not be denied VHA services, modifications may need to be made in their treatment plans. Decisions to modify treatment plans in those situations are best made by individual providers in partnership with their patients. VHA endorses a step-care model for the treatment of patients with chronic pain: any prescription(s) for chronic pain should be managed under the auspices of such programs described in VHA policy regarding Pain Management.

Medical personnel are directed to record the usage of medical marijuana in the “‘non-VA medication section’ of a patient’s electronic medical record,” as they would any medication prescribed outside the VA system.

The VA announcement comes almost a year after the Obama Administration announced that it would no longer seek to prosecute users or suppliers of medical marijuana who are in compliance with state laws. Prosecutors, the FBI and DEA were informed in a 3-page guidance issued in October 2009 that the Administration did not consider prosecuting individuals involved in medical marijuana sales or purchases to be a viable use of law enforcement agencies’ time, a 180-degree reversal from Bush Administration policy.

However, on February 2, 2010, Obama nominated Michele Leonhart to be the Administrator of the DEA. Leonhart, a career law enforcement officer, is a two-time Bush Administration nominee at DEA whose time as head of the Los Angeles office was marked by her agents’ zealous enforcement of the Bush Administration anti-medical marijuana agenda. Shortly after her announcement, the head of the Denver DEA office, Jeffrey Sweetin, conducted a very public raid of a medical marijuana grower, telling reporters, “It’s still a violation of federal law. It’s not medicine. We’re still going to continue to investigate and arrest people.” Leonhart’s nomination has yet to be considered by the Judiciary Committee.

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