Florida lawmakers have approved a proposal to eliminate the annual registration fee for veterans who use medical marijuana as a treatment option. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Janet Cruz and Rep. Adam Hattersley, both Democrats from Hillsborough County, aims to increase veteran access to non-opioid alternatives for chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The Cost of Medical Marijuana for Veterans
Currently, patients in Florida who want to use medical marijuana must pay $75 every year to renew their medical marijuana card, in addition to the initial consultation fee with a qualified physician, which can range from $150 to $300. The cost of the product itself can vary depending on the type, quantity, and dispensary. None of these expenses are covered by insurance or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which does not recommend or prescribe medical marijuana due to federal prohibition.
For many veterans, especially those who live on a fixed income or disability benefits, these costs can be prohibitive and prevent them from accessing a safer and more effective treatment than opioids or psychotropic drugs. According to a 2019 report by the American Legion, 22% of veterans use medical marijuana to treat a physical or mental condition, and 83% of veteran households support legalizing medical marijuana for medical purposes.
The Benefits of Medical Marijuana for Veterans
Medical marijuana has been shown to have various therapeutic benefits for veterans who suffer from chronic pain, PTSD, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other conditions. A recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that cannabis use may reduce the association between PTSD and severe depressive and suicidal states. Another study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found that 80% of medical marijuana users reported a reduction in their opioid use, and 75% reported an improvement in their quality of life.
Many veterans and advocates have been calling for more research and access to medical marijuana as a viable alternative to opioids and other prescription drugs, which can have harmful side effects and addictive potential. The VA, however, has been reluctant to embrace medical marijuana, citing the lack of federal legalization and clinical trials. The VA does not restrict veterans from using medical marijuana in states where it is legal, but it does not provide any guidance or assistance to them.
The Future of Medical Marijuana for Veterans
The bill to waive the registration fee for veterans is expected to pass the Florida House and Senate, and be signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been supportive of expanding medical marijuana access in the state. The bill would take effect on July 1, 2024, and would save veterans $75 per year, which may not seem like a lot, but could make a difference for some.
The bill is also seen as a symbolic gesture of gratitude and recognition for the sacrifices and struggles of veterans, who have served and protected the country. As Sen. Cruz said, “Our veterans have given so much to us; the least we can do is give back to them.”