The Trump administration’s attack on legal cannabis, already stymied by large states determined not to roll back the clock, is increasingly confronting an even more politically potent adversary: military veterans.
Frustrated by federal laws restricting their access to a drug many already rely on to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and opioid addiction, veterans have become an influential lobbying force in the marijuana debate after sitting on the sidelines for years.
The 2-million-member American Legion this spring got involved in a big way by launching a campaign to reduce marijuana restrictions, which it says hurt veterans and may aggravate a suicide epidemic.
The move reflects the changing politics of marijuana, and of a conservative, century-old veterans service organization facing new challenges as its membership grows with those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We were hearing these compelling stories from veterans about how cannabis has made their lives better,” said Joseph Plenzler, a spokesman for the American Legion. “That they were able to use it to get off a whole cocktail of drugs prescribed by VA doctors, that it is helping with night terrors, or giving them relief from chronic pain.”
At the same time, some patients complained that Veterans Affairs doctors refused to offer any advice for using medical marijuana yet also made a record of who was using it, raising fears that such information might be used to punish former service members or strip their benefits.
The legion’s call to reclassify marijuana federally from a drug that has no medical benefit and is more dangerous than cocaine to one that is in the same category as legal prescription painkillers has caught the attention of lawmakers.
A measure by the legion that would permit VA doctors to give their patients the sign-off they need to access medical marijuana in states where it is legal was approved by a key Senate budget committee earlier this month on a 24-7 vote, with nine Republicans voting in favor. The measure is among the veterans-related marijuana legislation getting new traction at an otherwise challenging time in Washington for pot advocates.