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Kirsten Gillibrand: VA should end medical marijuana ban

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand listens as veteran Marine Mark

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand listens as veteran Marine Mark DiPasquale makes a point during a news conference on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. The senator called on the Department of Veterans Affairs to change its policy on treating patients using medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Credit: Charles Eckert

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs should allow its doctors to discuss and recommend medical marijuana as a treatment option in New York and other states where it has been legalized, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Sunday.

The agency’s prohibition, which is up for renewal Monday, should end, she said.

“This VA rule is discriminating against our veterans,” Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said at a Manhattan news conference with former members of the armed forces, physicians and other advocates.

“Instead of giving our veterans this modern treatment option, we are instead letting antiquated ideology get in the way of scientific progress.”

Several veterans testified to medical marijuana’s health benefits, saying it treated their post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic migraines and other combat-related ailments while reducing their dependence on opioid prescription pills.

“I would not be here without cannabis,” said retired U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Mark DiPasquale of Rochester, co-founder of the Veterans Cannabis Collective.

DiPasquale, who served in Iraq from 2005 to 2007, said he had overdosed three times on opioids and found marijuana to be a safer treatment option.

Dan Moynihan, a Marine Corps veteran and former Freeport volunteer firefighter who toiled at the World Trade Center site after the 9/11 terror attacks, said he suffers from chronic cluster headaches and neuropathy, among other struggles. He said he wishes he could take fewer morphine-based medications.

“The civilian population has access to medical marijuana, whereas veterans have no access whatsoever,” Moynihan, 51, who now lives in Brooklyn, told Newsday. “We’re blocked. Our doctors’ hands are tied.”

Requests for comment from the Department of Veterans Affairs were not immediately returned Sunday.

Gillibrand called on President Barack Obama’s administration to recognize marijuana under an “accepted medical use” categorization so more research can be conducted on its effectiveness.

The senator hoped to seize on the momentum of the opening of medical marijuana dispensaries across New York State and elsewhere.

Last week, dispensaries opened on Long Island in Riverhead and Lake Success under New York’s Compassionate Care Act, which was passed by the State Legislature in June 2014.