Federal Medical Marijuana Legal Challenge Bolstered by New Veterans Policy Directive
VA policy undermines federal position that "marijuana has no currently accepted medical use"
SAN FRANCISCO -- Medical marijuana patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed an important legal brief today in a Ninth Circuit case which aims to correct statements by the federal government that "marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." The ASA legal filing points to a policy directive issued last week by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), recognizing medical marijuana and distinguishing it from other illegal controlled substances. In its brief, ASA contends that the VHA directive bolsters advocates' arguments that marijuana does indeed have medical value.
"Recognition of marijuana's therapeutic benefits by a federal agency makes it more difficult for the government to argue against marijuana's medical value," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who filed the notice with the court. "The government's reasons for maintaining an outdated and harmful position on medical marijuana are running out." In the July 22nd policy directive, the VHA reversed its position that medical marijuana is no different than other banned controlled substances, and instructed VA physicians that "patients participating in state medical marijuana programs must not be denied VHA services."
The Department of Veterans Affairs Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel also clarified in a July 6th letter to veteran advocate Michael Krawitz that, "If a veteran obtains and uses medical marijuana in a manner consistent with state law, testing positive for marijuana would not preclude the Veteran from receiving opioids for pain management." The letter further stated that, "Standard pain management agreements should draw a clear distinction between the use of illegal drugs, and legal medical marijuana." ASA has received numerous reports of veterans being denied pain medication for refusing to discontinue their use of medical marijuana. In many cases, the therapeutic use of marijuana has significantly diminished veterans' need for pharmaceutical medication.
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ASA filed its lawsuit in February of 2007 in an attempt to correct the government's position on medical marijuana. After the challenge was denied by the U.S. District Court, ASA filed an appeal in April of 2008 and is still awaiting a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal. ASA's lawsuit was preceded by an administrative petition filed in 2005 under the Data Quality Act, a law passed during the Clinton Administration to ensure that the government bases its policy decisions on sound science and not politics.
According to Krawitz's group, Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access, more than 100,000 veterans, or 27% of veterans treated by the VA, have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Based on reports received by ASA, PTSD is one of the most common medical conditions that veterans treat using medical marijuana.
Veterans Health Administration policy directive issued on July 22nd: http://www1.va.gov/vhapublications/ViewPublication.asp?pub_ID=2276
Letter from Department of Veterans Affairs to veteran advocate Michael Krawitz: www.drugsense.org/temp/Undersecretary-Jun6.pdf
Legal brief filed today by ASA: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/DQA_Rule28.pdf
Data Quality Act appeal filed by ASA: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/DQA_Appeal_Brief.pdf