A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is renewing their push for legislation to provide military veterans with access to medical marijuana.
The legislation, known as the the Veterans Equal Access Act, would allow Veterans Affairs health-care providers to discuss medical marijuana options with patients in states where it's legal.
One of the biggest proponents of Florida Republican Rep. Brian Mast, who lost both legs while serving in the Army in Afghanistan.
"I woke up in a situation where I was probably was on 20 different narcotics of various kinds. I was, I had Dilaudid drip, I had oral morphines and [oxycodones] and an epidural," Mast told Spectrum News. "I had anti-inflammatories, heavy sleep sedatives, antidepressant stuff that I never been on or even thought about, or you could even say the names of before in my life."
Currently, VA health care providers are not allowed to discuss medical marijuana as a potential treatment, even in states where it is legal. Mast called this policy "absurd" and an issue of states' rights.
The bill would allow doctors and patients to discuss the risks and benefits of medical marijuana, but VA health care providers would still be unable to prescribe it.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., the lead sponsor of the legislation, argues it would reduce veteran suicides and the use of opioids to deal with pain.
"We lose almost two dozen veterans a day taking their own life," Blumenauer told Spectrum News. "We've seen a situation where, sadly, the VA, which is not on board, [with] giving access to medical marijuana, was handing out opioids like Tic Tacs. I think there's some changes that are taking place. I've had conversations with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, but this is a long overdue step."
While Blumenauer says the VA is not supportive of the legislation, the bill has the support of several veterans' organizations, including AMVETS and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"Some veterans across the country are hesitant to even use VA health care because they're concerned about having to discuss the cannabis products they're legally putting in their bodies with VA doctors," said Brittany Dymond, an associate director with the VFW.
While some Democrats and Republicans support the bill, there are some in the GOP who oppose the legislation. With no current Senate sponsor, the bill faces an uphill struggle to become law.
Sponsors have signaled that they have been engaging in conversations with House and Senate leadership.