By Jodee Dietzenbach
While many states have approved marijuana for medical and recreational use, the FDA still considers it a Schedule I controlled substance. This means the Federal Government has found marijuana to have no currently accepted medical use and has found it to have a high potential for abuse. Schedule I substances are considered illegal according to the Federal Government regardless of whether they are legal in any particular state. However, the Federal Government typically does not pursue prosecution of marijuana use or possession as long as that use or possession is in accordance with applicable state law.
This raises a question of whether a Veteran’s benefits or care through the VA would be at risk if they were legally using marijuana under state law. Luckily, the VA has provided some guidelines regarding its position on marijuana use by Veterans (found here: https://www.publichealth.va.gov/marijuana.asp).
Veterans cannot be denied VA benefits due to marijuana use. VA clinicians may not recommend or prescribe marijuana, even if it is legal to do so in the Veteran’s state. VA clinicians may not complete paperwork for Veterans to participate in state-approved marijuana programs and may only prescribe medications approved by the FDA. The VA is not allowed to pay for marijuana prescriptions and VA pharmacies are not allowed to fill marijuana prescriptions.
Veterans are encouraged to discuss marijuana use with their VA providers. While the VA providers are required to record marijuana use in medical record, these medical records are confidential and protected under patient privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations. The use or possession of marijuana is prohibited at VA medical facilities, locations, and grounds, and Veterans who are VA employees are subject to drug testing as a term of their employment.
In summary, the VA will not deny benefits or care due to marijuana use. However, because the VA is a Federal Government Agency, it cannot encourage or promote the use of a substance that is still considered illegal under federal law.
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