The prescription opioid epidemic in this country touches nearly everyone at some point, but some of the most affected are our nation’s veterans. Even in states with legalized medical marijuana, veterans are still unable to receive a cannabis prescription from their V.A. doctor.
Members of the American Legion in Indiana have had enough, and are officially calling on Congress to finally admit that cannabis has at least some medical value, which would in theory warrant a rescheduling on the list of controlled substances. The American Legion also wants their home state of Indiana to get with the program and develop a medical marijuana program.
The resolution was originally written by Jeff Staker, a veteran from Kokomo, IN who started the Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis nonprofit to help create the change he wanted to see. According to Stoker, medical marijuana could be the answer to helping veterans that are desperately waging war against opioid painkiller dependency, PTSD, and other daily mental and physical obstacles they face as a result of their service for this country.
“We got veterans dying every 30 minutes of prescription pain overdose,” Staker, who spent 11 years as a Marine sniper, pleaded. “As veterans we’re looking at it as a way to treat veterans from things from PTSD to chronic pain.”
The agreed-upon resolution by the Indiana chapter of the American Legion follows a similar call for rescheduling from the national American Legion in September of last year. The traditionally conservative American Legion, which counts more than 2 million United States veterans as members, passed a resolution that called on Congress to “amend legislation to remove marijuana from schedule I and reclassify it in a category that, at a minimum will recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value.”
Dr. Sue Sisley, one of the researchers for the first federally-approved study examining medical cannabis’s benefits for people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a driving force behind the effort to get the American Legion on board, said the organization’s support will propel the debate about the issue.
“I consider this a major breakthrough for such a conservative veterans organization,” she told Marijuana.com. “Suddenly the American Legion has a tangible policy statement on cannabis that will allow them to lobby and add this to their core legislative agenda. The organization has a massive amount of influence at all levels.”
Sisley, who spoke at the American Legion convention in Cincinnati before the vote on the resolution, has been lobbying local American Legion posts to endorse her research for the past two years.
“I was surprised to see how many of the local posts were eager to support our work but I wondered how we could ever get the national office to examine this,” she said, adding that she met with with key American Legion national staff over the past year. After hearing how marijuana’s Schedule I status impedes research into the benefits it can bring to veterans suffering from physical and psychological war wounds, leadership ended up inviting Sisley to present at a forum on PTSD and traumatic brain injury in January. That was received well, and the organization then invited her to speak at the national convention last week.
The importance of such a large lobbying group such as the American Legion throwing its support behind marijuana legalization cannot be understated. Americans for Safe Access representative Mike Liszewski explained how groups like the American Legion can sway crucial lawmakers and tip the scales towards the end of prohibition.
“For years, many of the Congressional offices that have been hesitant to vote in favor of medical marijuana reform have asked if groups such as the American Legion have weighed in,” Liszewski told Marijuana.com. “With the American Legion joining the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America in supporting federal medical marijuana reform, it will be increasingly difficult for Congressional leadership to continue blocking efforts to expand research and move marijuana out of Schedule I.”
Why is it so important for marijuana to get rescheduled and attain medical legalization?
A study published in July of last year in Health Affair concluded that states with legalized medical marijuana see “fewer prescriptions per doctor for pharmaceutical drugs in several disease categories where marijuana is a potential treatment.”
Cover Image Courtesy of Barbara Brosher
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