Veterans are adding their voices to the growing chorus calling for changes in marijuana research and legalization.
A bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives, along with several combat veterans and the mother of a Marine who died by suicide after struggling with prescribed pharmaceuticals, came together in Washington on Thursday and urged Congress to advance efforts for medical marijuana research. They spoke at a news conference announcing a survey by the American Legion that showed surging support among veterans for legalizing medical cannabis and expanding research.
Cannabis is currently classified in Schedule I under the federal Controlled Substances Act along with heroin and LSD, and is defined as having no currently accepted medical use. The designation has hindered research in the United States for decades.
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minnesota, the ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said medical cannabis advocates in Congress were not looking to pick a political fight on this issue. However, he said, it was way past due “to use the premier medical research institution in the world, which is the (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs), to put its resources there and for us to start to understand (cannabis) better.”
Walz continued: “It is simply not right that our sisters and brothers in arms, depending on where they live, are put in a situation where they cannot (access medical cannabis) on a legal basis, and they can’t do so with one of their VA benefits. So what we’re asking for is something as simple as … do the research into this, do the reclassification, get this piece right. And then start to figure out if there’s a way we can do this in a systematic matter to make sure that the folks that need it … can get the relief.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, is sponsor of H.R. 2020, a bill that would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III substance. “This is absolutely essential to move forward with the type of bipartisan, solution-oriented approach that I think can help a great deal of people,” he said.
And the fact that the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans organization, is joining the call for medical marijuana reform “is very significant,” he added.
Gaetz also took aim at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who on Wednesday said the expansion of medical marijuana laws would create a situation similar to the rise of the opioid epidemic in the U.S.
“I want to condemn in the strongest possible terms, the outrageous statements made by Gov. Christie recently regarding medical cannabis,” Gaetz said to applause. “It is shortsighted, it is inaccurate and it is indefensible to suggest that the proliferation of medical cannabis, that is saving lives and improving quality of life for people, somehow is analogous to the plague of the opioid crisis.”
One of the most passionate calls for medical marijuana reform came from Janine Lutz, mother of Lance Cpl. Janos (John) Lutz and founder of the Live To Tell Foundation.
Lutz said her “eyes have been opened” to cannabis reform after her son’s suicide following his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and prescription drugs.
“I know that cannabis does work for a lot of veterans,” she said. “I know that every pharmaceutical on the market today that fights against depression has negative side effects, to include suicidal tendencies. Cannabis does not include that.”
Lutz said medical cannabis is not a gateway drug but an “exit drug” that could help people break their opioid addictions.
“We must not be content with this continuous conversation,” she concluded. “We must act swiftly and decriminalize cannabis and get it rescheduled, now.”