The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published a notice on March 10 on the Federal Register, introducing a new effort to help prevent veteran suicide. 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.”
However, the program the VA specifically states that program benefits will not be provided for medical cannabis, as it is still illegal under federal law. “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. However, public comments will still be accepted until May 9, although the final rule will begin starting on April 11.
It is not surprising that the VA has limited access to the program for those who seek cannabis as a treatment. Putting the program aside, the VA recently clarified that cannabis use would not cause a veteran to be denied eligibility for 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. The Veterans Cannabis Project, Weed for Warriors Project, the Veterans Cannabis Coalition and the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance all fight for awareness of veteran suicides and find ways to assist those in need. A variety of cannabis brands also contribute portions of profits or have held events in the past to continually help veterans.
On March 14, the Veterans Action Council (VAC) asked US Attorney General Merrick Garland to remove cannabis as a Schedule I and II controlled substance. “Removing cannabis from schedule 1 & 2 will solve many serious issues facing Americans. Veterans will get cannabis recommendations from their federal government doctors. 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. Medical cannabis patients will begin to have their second amendment rights respected. 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.”