The following is excerpted from today's page 1 New York Times story.
V.A. EASING RULES FOR USERS OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA
DENVER -- The Department of Veterans Affairs will formally allow patients treated at its hospitals and clinics to use medical marijuana in states where it is legal, a policy clarification that veterans have sought for several years.
Under department rules, veterans can be denied pain medications if they are found to be using illegal drugs. Until now, the department had no written exception for medical marijuana.
Dr. Robert Jesse, the principal deputy under secretary for health in the veterans department, said, "We didn't want patients who were legally using marijuana to be administratively denied access to pain management programs."
The new, written policy applies only to veterans using medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Doctors may still modify a veteran's treatment plan if the veteran is using marijuana, or decide not to prescribe pain medicine altogether if there is a risk of a drug interaction. But that decision will be made on a case-by-case basis, not as blanket policy, Dr. Jesse said.
Veterans, some of whom have been at the forefront of the medical marijuana movement, praised the department's decision. They say cannabis helps soothe physical and psychological pain and can alleviate the side effects of some treatments.
Advocates of medical marijuana use say that in the past, the patchwork of veterans hospitals and clinics around the country were sometimes unclear how to deal with veterans who needed pain medications and were legally using medical marijuana. The department's emphasis on keeping patients off illegal drugs and from abusing their medication "gave many practitioners the feeling that they are supposed to police marijuana out of the system," Mr. Krawitz said.
"Many medical-marijuana-using veterans have just abandoned the V.A. hospital system completely for this reason," he said, "and others that stay in the system feel that they are not able to trust that their doctor will be working in their best interests."
Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, which favors the legal regulation of the drug, called the decision historic. "We now have a branch of the federal government accepting marijuana as a legal medicine," he said.