Giving veterans marijuana access should be an easy, commonsense move, right?
Everyone supports the troops. Of course they do. To say otherwise is anathema for anyone in public office. In all but the most progressive jurisdictions on in the U.S., criticizing the military — including questioning the mission, or, far worse, the conduct of service personnel — is a form of political hari-kari. Look at Bernie Sanders. Vehemently and proudly anti-war, the most successful left-leaning presidential candidate in most voters’ lifetimes nonetheless supports the notion of a “robust military” at the ready at all times.
But do we really fully support the troops, specifically veterans, in the U.S.A?
If we did, we wouldn’t have warehoused soldiers and Marines maimed in Iraq and Afghanistan in a rat-and-cockroach infested slum located an Uber ride away from the halls of Congress — and that scandal at Walter Reed Hospital wouldn’t have been followed within a decade with yet another criminal embarrassment at the Veterans Health Administration.
If we did care about the veterans and wanted to support them — all 2.3 million women and men who went overseas to pursue missions that are still incomplete almost two decades later — we’d listen to them and to the American Legion, arguably the most conservative veterans’ organization in the county, and give veterans marijuana priviledges.
As many as one in five veterans of the country’s two 21st-century wars have post-traumatic stress disorder. Another 360,000 have some form of serious brain injury. Add them to the veterans of Vietnam and the “small-scale” conflicts of the 1980s and 1990s, and by sheer numbers alone, you have what should be a national health emergency.
Stories of veterans using marijuana in some form instead of a shopping list’s worth of pharmaceuticals — some of which are habit-forming, others of which have terrible side effects, yet others which just don’t work — are everywhere. There seem to be more cannabis organizations founded by and designed for military veterans every day.
And yet here are House leaders, killing proposals to allow VA doctors to prescribe cannabis to veterans without so much as a vote. And here’s the VA, doing what it can to block one of the most significant marijuana-related research projects in existence, what would be a groundbreaking study into cannabis’s value in treating PTSD, were it allowed to go forward. As a result, there are military veterans breaking the law, risking imprisonment and treated like cartel-level criminals solely because they took matters into their own hands in order to go through a day or two without chronic pain and psychological torment.
It should be a simple thing to give military veterans marijuana. They really don’t ask for much, just what everyone asks for: decent health care, decent job opportunities, to be remembered and cared for rather than forgotten after their service expires. Giving them that much is supposed to be the deal. It’s the civilians who have a hard time fulfilling their end of the bargain.
Good things happen when we actually support the troops. The GI Bill is considered to be one of the single most successful policies to emerge from the federal government. Opportunities for education and home ownership afforded to returnees from World War II and Korea laid the groundwork for a new middle class that lasted for at least a generation.
Bad things happen when we don’t: homelessness, suicides, never-ending wars.
The good news is that this can’t go on forever. There is simply no way that elected officials can say with a straight face that they’re pro-military and deny combat veterans marijuana access without suffering real consequences themselves.
This time around, if we give vets some agency and pay attention, we’ll see the first steps towards ending the war on drugs. Wounded vets using cannabis to heal their wartime scars are crucial to nationwide efforts to legalize marijuana. Once Congress finally eases marijuana restrictions, it will absolutely be in no small part thanks to the vets.
It’s already breaking that way. States with ridiculously limited medical-marijuana programs are being shamed into adding PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions — and others are proving wise enough not to impose such pointless and harmful restrictions in the first place.
As has been demonstrated time and again, medical cannabis is the first step. Once people accept the plant as a legitimate wellness tool, decades of anti-pot propaganda starts to dissipate. Look at Florida, where more than 70 percent of voters approved medical marijuana, and where one of the most conservative Republicans in Congress is now a champion of medical pot. Maybe he’s doing it solely out of political expediency. It doesn’t matter, though. The worm is still turning.
Conservative states including Tennessee aren’t so conservative when it comes to cannabis policy. Cities like Nashville have already pushed municipal decriminalization efforts. Within two hours’ drive is Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home to the 101st Airborne Division. You can bet that everyone on base knows that weed will help them through their lives once they’re discharged. And they'll act on it, whether legal or not.
Patriotism as politics cuts both ways. Vets vote. And vets spur lawmakers into action. When marijuana is legalized in your area, when medical cannabis becomes acceptable for you to use, make sure you thank a vet.