WASHINGTON, D.C. - Right now, if a physician at a U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs medical center writes a prescription for a veteran to receive medical marijuana, they could lose their job under federal law.

But a new proposal co-sponsored by Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz could change that.

“What it would do is protect VA doctors’ ability to be able to fill out state-legal medical marijuana recommendation forms,” said Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Currently, 31 states including Hawaii have legalized medical marijuana. However, both medical and recreational marijuana are illegal at the federal level. Schatz’s plan would establish a temporary five-year safe harbor protection, for veterans who use medical marijuana. 

The bill is highly endorsed by groups such as NORML, the National Organization for Reforming Marijuana Laws.

 “(Medical marijuana) has proven time and time again that it is necessary to be part of a health care treatment option should it be decided between a patient and their doctor,” Strekal said.

A 2017 study from the American Legion found that nearly 22 percent of veterans admits to using marijuana to treat both mental and physical pain; that’s more than double the rest of the American population, as found in a 2017 Yahoo News/Marist survey.

The Dept. of Veterans Affairs tells Island News that they have not taken a position on this proposal just yet.

“The bill does right by our veterans, and it can also shed light on how medical marijuana can help with the nation’s opioid epidemic,” Schatz said in a statement. His office did respond to requests for an on-camera interview.

That’s a sentiment shared by Strekal and NORML, calling this a good alternative as the nationwide opioid epidemic continues to grow.

“The veterans’ community is clearly unified around the need for medical marijuana as an alternative,” Strekal said.