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New VA Veteran Suicide Program Won’t Allow Cannabis as Treatment

On March 10, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), published an announcement on Federal Register. This notice introduced a new initiative to prevent suicide among veterans. The Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant Program is a three-year program created for “eligible entities to provide or coordinate the provision of suicide prevention services to eligible individuals and their families for the purpose of reducing veteran suicide.”

But, VA’s program explicitly states that benefits for medical cannabis will not be available because the federal law still makes it illegal. “It is also important for VA to note that any approaches and treatment practices approved will need to be consistent with applicable Federal law,” the article states. “For example, the use of grant funds to provide or coordinate the provision of marijuana to eligible individuals and their families will be prohibited, as marijuana is currently illegal under Federal law.”

Multiple organizations participated in crafting the program, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide. These organizations helped shape “various aspects” of the program. In total, the VA notes that it received 124 public comments as well, which provided feedback on eligibility “…such as distribution and selection of grants; administration of the grant program, including development of measures and metrics; training and technical assistance; referrals for care; degrees of risk of suicide and processes for determining degrees of risk of suicide; and nontraditional and innovative approaches and treatment practices that may be appropriate under this grant program.”

Although cannabis fits under the category of “nontraditional and innovative” treatments, its federal illegality makes it off limits to those who want to apply for the program. Although public comments can still be made until May 9th, the final rules will take effect on April 11th.

This is why the VA limits access to its program for veterans who are using cannabis to treat their ailments. The VA clarified recently that veterans who use cannabis for treatment will not be denied VA benefits. “Veteran participation in state marijuana programs does not affect eligibility for VA care and services,” the VA wrote on its website. “VA providers can and do discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.”

Despite cannabis treatment not being included in the new grant program, that doesn’t stop the cannabis industry from showing support. Veterans Cannabis Project and Weed for Warriors Project are all working together to raise awareness about veteran suicides, and help those who need it. There are many cannabis brands that have contributed in some way to veteran aid, or held previous events.

Veterans Action Council (VAC), asked US Attorney general Merrick Garland on March 14 to cancel cannabis from Schedule I and II. “Removing cannabis from schedule 1 & 2 will solve many serious issues facing Americans. Federal government physicians will recommend cannabis to veterans. Medical patients will no longer be kicked out of their federal housing, medical cannabis patients will no longer be kicked off of transplant lists,” the VAC wrote. “Cannabis will be scheduled on par with its own ‘active ingredient’ ending the decades old disparity. Patients who use medical cannabis will have their rights protected by the second amendment. Legal cannabis businesses will no longer be punished by the IRS and will begin to be able to make normal business expense deductions and will be able to put their money in banks like they do in civilized societies.”