One of the nation’s most conservative veterans’ groups is appealing to President Donald Trump to reclassify marijuana to allow large-scale cannabis research into whether pot can help troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The change sought by The American Legion would conflict with the strongly anti-marijuana positions of some administration leaders, most vocally Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“We are not asking for it to be legalized,” said Louis Celli, the national director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation for the American Legion, which with 2.4 million members is the largest U.S. veterans’ organization. “There is overwhelming evidence that it has been beneficial for some vets. The difference is that it is not founded in federal research because it has been illegal.”
The Legion has requested a White House meeting with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and close aide, “as we seek support from the president to clear the way for clinical cannabis research in the cutting edge areas of cannabinoid receptor research,” according to a recent letter shared with POLITICO.
The request marks a significant turn in the debate over medical marijuana by lending an influential and unexpected voice. The Legion, made up mostly of Vietnam and Korean War-era veterans, is breaking with other leading vets’ groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars in lobbying for the removal of the major roadblock in pursuing marijuana treatment.
But it also comes as the new administration, led by Sessions, is sending strong signals of its desire to thwart marijuana decriminalization and legalization efforts. Expectations are growing in Congress that DOJ may even try to roll back medical marijuana laws in 29 states.
Federal regulators classify marijuana as a “Schedule 1” drug, a category that includes heroin and LSD, saying it offers a “high potential for abuse” and has no accepted medicinal properties. That means that with few exceptions it cannot be studied for therapeutic purposes. And the exceedingly small number of research studies, which have taken years to get off the ground due to the bureaucratic hoops, must rely on only a single government-sponsored lab to provide the cannabis.
“We desperately need more cannabis research in this area to inform policymakers,” said Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist at the Scottsdale Research Institute in Arizona who is running one of the only cannabis studies underway focused on vets suffering from PTSD. “I really want to see the most objective data published in peer reviewed medical journals.”
She added that she isn’t prejudging what the outcome of the research will be.
“I don’t know if cannabis will turn out to be helpful for PTSD,” Sisley said. “ I know what veterans tell me but until we have rigorous controlled trials, all we have are case studies that are not rigorous enough to make me, medical professionals, health departments or policymakers convinced.”
Some veterans’ activists are angry at the federal government’s continued resistance to even studying cannabis, even as an average of 20 vets kill themselves every day.