Marijuana Moment is a wire service assembled by Tom Angell, a marijuana legalization activist and journalist covering marijuana reform nationwide. The views expressed by Angell or Marijuana Moment are neither endorsed by the Globe nor do they reflect the Globe’s views on any subject area.
US Representative Katherine Clark expressed concern this week that military veterans could be particularly impacted by the Governor Charlie Baker’s decision to keep recreational marijuana stores closed in Massachusetts amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The Massachusetts Democrat raised the issue in a tweet, linking to a story about a veterans advocacy group that is calling on Baker to reopen adult-use shops so veterans can continue to obtain marijuana products more readily and without fear of being penalized. Though medical marijuana dispensaries are still open in Massachusetts, a US Department of Veterans Affairs policy prohibits its doctors from recommending medical marijuana to patients.
The Veterans Cannabis Project said service members often resist registering as patients out of concern about losing federal benefits. Getting certified as a medical cannabis patient can also take time and money that many veterans don’t have. In contrast, any adult over 21 years of age could have walked into a recreational marijuana shop before Baker ordered them closed as part of broader business shutdowns amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Although the VA has an administrative policy that says veterans will not lose their federal benefits due to marijuana use, it is not widely known and could be changed at any time. Meanwhile, though the VA has maintained that its physicians can discuss cannabis use with veterans, they’re barred from helping them obtain the substance — and that includes issuing recommendations to certify them as medical cannabis patients under state law.
“Under federal policy, [VA] health care providers may not recommend marijuana or assist veterans in obtaining it,” Clark said. “By closing down recreational dispensaries, our veterans who rely on these stores are left without care.”
The VA “must change its policy and in the meantime, the state must find a way to serve our vets,” she added. “No one should be left behind in this national emergency.”
Baker defended his decision to shut down recreational marijuana shops Tuesday by arguing that because Massachusetts is one of few Northeast states allowing adult-use sales, keeping them open would attract out-of-state visitors who could spread the virus.
Clark has championed other cannabis- and veterans- released issues in the past. Last year, the House approved an amendment the congresswoman sponsored that sought to end a VA policy that denies home loans to veterans simply because they work in the marijuana industry. The Senate did not follow suit, however, and the provision was not enacted into law.
A separate piece of legislation that would allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations, introduced by Representative Earl Blumenauer, was approved by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee last month. That panel also voted in favor of a bill that would require the VA to conduct clinical trials on the potential therapeutic benefits of marijuana for conditions that commonly afflict veterans, such as chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, Blumenauer’s bill to allow VA doctors to recommend cannabis would have zero fiscal impact.
That said, in a hearing last year, VA officials voiced opposition to a variety of marijuana-related bills, including the congressman’s proposal.