The Cannabis Column
November 11th is Veterans Day, which makes this a good time to rally support for [link|http://www.veteransformedicalcannabis.org/|Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access] (VMCA). This organization is committed to protecting the rights of Veteran patients and health care professionals to have safe and legal access to medical cannabis for appropriate therapeutic uses and to further encourage research on the use of cannabis as a treatment alternative.
Among VMCA’s goals is to ensure that state laws allowing medical cannabis use recognize its value in the treatment of chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The organization recently posted a petition at the web site for the White House in order to “Allow United States disabled veterans access to medical marijuana to treat their PTSD.” The petition quickly received far more than the 5,000 signatures required to receive an official response from the White House.
VMCA was founded by Michael Krawitz, a disabled US Air Force veteran who served from 1981 to 1986. A long-time advocate for medical marijuana patients, Krawitz was instrumental in getting the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to approve policies facilitating access for veterans to state-approved medical marijuana programs.
While the VHA will not authorize medical cannabis use under such programs for veterans under their care, this directive clarifies that “VHA policy does not administratively prohibit Veterans who participate in state marijuana programs from also participating in VHA substance abuse programs, pain control programs, or other clinical programs where the use of marijuana may be considered inconsistent with treatment goals.” Prior to this policy directive, Veterans using medical marijuana through state-approved programs risked losing their VHA medical care and benefits.
According to the VMCA, this small but important change in VHA’s policies now allows veterans to “safely discuss medical cannabis use within the V.A. healthcare system without fear of punishment or retribution.”
There is much more work that needs to be done, however, to grant veterans full access to medical cannabis. According to VMCA 45.6% of veterans treated by VHA have mental health conditions and 27% suffer from PTSD.
Furthermore service personnel in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have faced a new threat, compared with past conflicts, known as the Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The widespread use of such bombs has inflicted tremendous injuries on our Armed Forces, resulting in historic levels of lost limbs and associated chronic pain. In addition, amputees also experience phantom pain, in which their brain feels pain from the area associated with a lost limb.
Cannabis has shown great promise in providing therapeutic relief for patients with these conditions.
According to VMCA board member Al Byrne, a retired veteran of the US Navy, “Vets I know use cannabis for pain from wounds that shattered bones, incinerated flesh, removed parts of their bodies by ripping them off. I know Vets that use it for phantom pain. The leg they don't have hurts like hell. Vets use cannabis to quit drinking alcohol and taking harder drugs. They use it to sleep. Sleep, try living without it or waking every night, every hour of every night, with a horror story going off in your head . . . [Cannabis] makes you forget some things that PTS wants you to remember.”
Veterans for Medical Cannabis needs your help and support to continue their work on behalf of America’s Veterans. There is no better time than the present to support this worthy organization and their important work. You can support VMCA by registering at their website, providing an endorsement for their work, becoming a state representative, and by encouraging others – especially veterans – to learn about, and become involved with, this important organization.
Jon Gettman is a long time contributor to HIGH TIMES. A former National Director of NORML, Jon has a Ph.D. in public policy and regional economic development and consults with attorneys, advocates, and non-profits on cannabis related research and public policy issues. On October 8, 2002, along with a coalition of organizations, he filed a new petition to have cannabis rescheduled under federal law. This column will track that petition's progress.
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The Cannabis Column