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MARIJUANA MOMENT

New bill would protect veterans from losing benefits over marijuana

A bud tender holds two marijuana buds on his fingers on the way to a customer at the Denver Kush Club in north Denver.
A bud tender holds two marijuana buds on his fingers on the way to a customer at the Denver Kush Club in north Denver.(David Zalubowski/Associated Press/File)

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.

Military veterans in legalized states would be shielded from losing their federal benefits for marijuana use under a bipartisan bill that was filed in Congress Wednesday. The legislation would also allow physicians at the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical cannabis to their patients.

US Representative Greg Steube, of Florida, introduced the bill, which seeks to codify an existing VA policy that prohibits penalizing veterans by stripping their benefits if they use cannabis in compliance with state law. On top of enshrining those protections into federal law so they couldn’t be changed by a future administration, the legislation would also amend VA rules that currently block the department’s doctors from filling out forms for veterans to obtain medical marijuana in accordance with state law.

Currently, VA doctors are only permitted to discuss marijuana with patients and document their usage in medical records. Those policies would also be codified under the bill.

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“As a veteran, I’m committed to ensuring that veterans receive the care they deserve, and I know that sometimes that care can include medical marijuana,” Steube said in a press release. “Receiving the appropriate treatment to address your health care needs — using products that are legal in the state in which you live — should not preclude you from your Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits.”

Interestingly, while the press release states that the legislation only applies to “veterans living and receiving care in states that have approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes,” the text of the bill does not specify that its provisions are exclusive to medical cannabis states.

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Rather, the bill broadly covers veterans “participating in a state-approved marijuana program,” meaning that those who use cannabis recreationally would also be shielded from losing their benefits.

“It’s important that we respect states’ rights as outlined in the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution,” Steube said.

“While it is the current policy of the VA to not deny benefits to veterans based on participation in these state-based medical marijuana programs, this bill will ensure that no future policy or administration change could put these veterans at risk of losing their benefits when they are in compliance with state law. It also allows VA staff to help veterans fill out the forms necessary to enroll in a state-approved program instead of having to rely on a private physician. This makes things easier for veterans who are in desperate need of these medical options.”

The legislation currently has one cosponsor, US Representative Gil Cisneros, of California.

A separate bill that would allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans was filed by US Representative Earl Blumenauer, of Oregon, last month. That proposal has 14 bipartisan cosponsors. Several other pieces of pending legislation would require the VA to study medical cannabis for veterans.

Read the text of Steube’s veterans marijuana bill:

Read this story on Marijuana Moment.