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House Democrats Push VA Hard On Cannabis For Veterans

Vets are making the ‘cannabis for veterans’ question unavoidable for lawmakers, and they’re starting to act accordingly. Some of them, at least. 

Chris Roberts

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House Democrats Push VA Hard On Cannabis For Veterans

America’s never-ending war against an ism has had at least one unintended and welcome consequence: Nobody supports medical marijuana (especially cannabis for veterans) with more reliable solidarity than the 2.7 million men and women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.

According to a poll recently conducted by the American Legion, one of the more conservative organizations representing veterans’ interests, a full 100 percent of vets and vets’ caregivers aged 18 to 30 support “federally legalized medical cannabis.”

One hundred percent.

If you’ve spent any time around polls of any size, you’ll know how rare unanimous results are. Read the whole poll for yourself, but TL;DR: Conservative or liberal, old or young, military veterans are overwhelmingly in favor of legal medical marijuana—and veterans may use cannabis more than any other segment of the population.

Vets Use Weed

One in five vets surveyed by the poll are currently using cannabis to “alleviate a medical or physical condition,” according to the poll. That just so happens to be the exact percentage of vets who came home with PTSD, according to the VA. As has been reported many times, here and elsewhere, cannabis appears to have real potential in alleviating symptoms related to chronic pain and to PTSD.

Other surveys aren’t quite as unanimous.

But they’re even better.

They show the sizable political clout legalization efforts enjoy thanks to vets using weed to recover from the pities of war. One, conducted by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, found that 63 percent of War on Terror veterans of all ages want medical marijuana as a federally accepted treatment. That’s not 100 percent, but look: That same survey found that 96 percent of vets are registered to vote—and 88 percent voted in the last election.

All this to say that vets are making the cannabis question unavoidable for lawmakers, and they’re starting to act accordingly. Some of them, at least. 

So far, major Democratic leadership, like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the same pair that appears to enjoy new power over President Donald Trump, have been content to sit back and let back-benchers do the work.

Cannabis For Veterans: Support From Below 

On Thursday, Reps. Julia Brownley (D-CA) and Tim Walz (D-MN) appeared at a press conference called by the American Legion to announce the survey results. They repeated arguments they and other Democrats on the House Veterans Affairs Committee made in an Oct. 26 letter sent to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin: Vets want weed. Vets need weed.

So what’s the holdup—and what’s the VA, notorious for handing out opiates to combat vets, going to do about it?

Brownley and her colleagues put the VA on notice.

They want either a commitment to allowing cannabis for veterans—something not every veteran in a medical-marijuana state enjoys, since not every state has PTSD as a qualified condition to receive a medical recommendation—or, failing that, they want the VA to explain why this can’t be done.

“VA’s pursuit of research into the impact of medical marijuana on the treatment of veterans diagnosed with PTSD who are also experiencing chronic pain is integral to the advancement of health care for veterans and the Nation,” the letter read. “We ask VA to respond, in kind, with a commitment to the development of VHA-led research into this issue. If VA is unable to make this commitment, we ask the VA to outline any and all external and internal barriers to the pursuit of the research to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs by November 14, 2017.”

This is something of a parliamentarian trick.

The Democrats know exactly why the VA can’t make that commitment: Weed is federally illegal. And so far, our very successful at legislating Republican-controlled Congress has successfully beat back every effort to make weed more readily available to former troops.

At the same time, some legalization advocates contend that the VA can change its internal policy on cannabis access and research independent of Congress.

To expect the VA to be the federal agency that goes rogue on the marijuana issue may be too much to hope for.

Shulkin has repeatedly said publicly that the VA cannot participate in programs that violate federal law.

“We are not going to be out there doing that research or prescribing these different medicinal preparations unless the law is changed,” he said in a June interview.

But, if the law changes, all that could change as well.

Cannabis For Veterans: Change From Above 

The Trump administration’s stance on cannabis is starkly at odds with… well, everything.

More than half of Republicans support marijuana legalization—and a vast majority, 83 percent, are in favor of medical marijuana. Democratic leadership has a long list of grievances with Team Trump, but it seems like a stupidly simple winning move to start collecting Republican cosponsors en masse on a veterans-friendly marijuana bill.

That hasn’t happened yet. The good news is that this can’t go on forever. There’s simply too much popular support—and popular support from people who vote. Thank a vet for that. And for the lack of progress to date, blame a lawmaker.

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