Thursday, July 22, 2010

VA Recognizes Legal Medical Marijuana

The federal Veteran's Administration will not penalize Veterans for using medical marijuana by depriving them of other necessary medicines, according to a July letter issued by the US Department of Veteran Affairs Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel, M.D.

Testing positive for marijuana would not preclude a Veteran from receiving other medications for pain management in a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facility, if a Veteran obtains and uses medical marijuana in a manner consistent with state law.

The authorized use of medical marijuana should not be defined as "illegal drug use," according to the VA Under Secretary.

"Standard pain management agreements should draw a clear distinction between the use of illegal drugs, and legal medical marijuana," says Under Secretary Pelzel.

The VA further instructs that the individual health care provider retains the discretion to prescribe, or not prescribe, opioids in conjunction with medical marijuana. The health care provider has the authority to determine the medications on clinical grounds.

The Veteran would need to inform his provider of the use of medical marijuana, and of any other non-VA prescribed medications he or she is taking to ensure that all medications, including opioids, are prescribed in a safe manner, according to Under Secretary Dr. Pelzel.

The provider will take the use of medical marijuana into account in all prescribing decisions, just as the provider would for any other medication, according to the VA.

"This is a case-by-case decision, based upon the provider's judgment, and the needs of the patient."

The VA is right about one thing - medical marijuana patients should not be treated as criminals, nor should they be deprived of their medically necessary treatments.

This guidance is important because it reaffirms that at least one administration within the federal government recognizes that medical marijuana, when used validly under state law, is a medical decision best left to the physician and the patient and should not be treated as a criminal matter. It is a health care decision.

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