There seems to be quite a bit of nervousness from people curious about the benefits of medical marijuana and how it may help them. Perhaps prohibition has become so ingrained into people’s minds that they do not trust legalization or worry that they will be added to some list of marijuana users and get blacklisted because of it. If those concerns exist, they can be remedied with further education. However, those concerns are unfortunately very real for our military veterans. Our vets face larger challenges when it comes to medical marijuana because most of them use a federally funded healthcare system.
The doctors that veterans often see have no choice but to tell their patients to stay away from marijuana due to the Schedule 1 status of cannabis, despite all of the testimonies suggesting that marijuana really helps PTSD symptoms. One veteran was even turned away from the Miami VA Healthcare System in Florida earlier this year because he is a part of Florida’s medical marijuana program. Isn’t it sad that the group that could possibly benefit the most from medical marijuana are also the ones that face the largest obstacles?
Among critics of the federal prohibition of marijuana — a diverse and bipartisan group that includes both criminal justice reform advocates and Big Alcohol — the American Legion and its allies stand out.
For more than a year, the stalwart veterans group has been working to reframe the debate as a question of not only moral and economic imperatives, but also patriotic ones, arguing that access to medical marijuana could ease suffering and reduce suicide rates among soldiers who return from the horrors of war.
“We’ve got young men and women with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries coming to us and saying that cannabis works,” Joe Plenzler, a spokesman for the group, which was established after World War I and has over two million members, said by telephone Wednesday.
Mr. Plenzler said that veterans had turned to medical marijuana as an alternative to so-called “zombie drugs,” including opioids and antidepressants, that they said adversely affected their mood and personality, up to and including thoughts of suicide. In studies, cannabis has been shown to help alleviate chronic pain and reduce muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis patients.
In 2016, the American Legion petitioned the government to relax federal restrictions on marijuana in two ways. The group asked Congress to remove the drug from the list of Schedule 1 narcotics — a class that includes heroin, LSD and other drugs that have “no accepted medical use” and a high potential for abuse — and reclassify it in a lower schedule. It also called on the Drug Enforcement Administration to license more privately funded growers to focus on medical research.
Because marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug, there is surprisingly little rigorous research into its medical applications, as researchers have found themselves stymied by regulatory hurdles at federal health and drug agencies and short on a supply of federally approved product.
The classification also means that veterans — many of whom rely on the federal Veterans Affairs Department for their health care — cannot get coverage for medical marijuana, even in the 29 states that have legalized it.
On Thursday, The American Legion published a phone survey of over 800 veterans and veteran caregivers in which 92 percent of respondents said they supported research into medical cannabis for the purpose of treating mental or physical conditions. Eighty-two percent said they wanted cannabis as a federally legal treatment option.