Veterans and Pot Use: What You Should Know

The passage of Proposition 64 in 2016 opened the door to a whole new world. But for many veterans, life stayed the same -- or at best, became much more confusing. That’s because the men and women who have served in our armed forces are linked to federal law in a way that many of us are not.

Many veterans live on VA grounds where pot is still prohibited and get medical care through the Veterans Health Administration, which bars doctors from prescribing medical marijuana. Now there’s another question at play: will veterans who use recreational pot see their VA care affected?

The answer isn’t clear.

“As long as there’s a federal conflict with state laws, any patient has significant reason to be worried,” said David Mangone, legislative counsel for the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.

Mangone doesn’t think veterans need to worry too much about criminal prosecution, although it’s always a possibility. But the integrity of their VA benefits is another issue.

Under a new policy, veterans who use medical marijuana can’t lose their benefits. But the directive doesn’t say anything about recreational pot.

KPCC asked the VA to clarify. It doesn’t appear to have gotten much in terms of an answer.

A spokesperson did highlight a statement by VA Secretary David Shulkin during a press briefing last May, which indicated he was open to the potential utility of medical marijuana for treatment of certain medical conditions.

“My opinion is...that some of the states that have put in appropriate controls, there may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful. And we're interested in looking at that and learning from that,” Shulkin said. But he went on to say his hands were tied by the current federal prohibition: “Until the time that federal law changes, we are not able to be able to prescribe medical marijuana for conditions that may be helpful."