Like many Americans, I have friends and family that have served in the military. I always make sure to thank them for their service to our country, and not just on Veteran’s Day (although I tend to ramp it up on Veteran’s Day!). Their sacrifice is truly inspiring. People that serve in the American armed forces move away from everything they know, often times to foreign countries, and dedicate years of their lives to improving themselves and fighting for the very freedoms that Americans enjoy on a daily basis.
Military service takes its toll on those that serve, with many veterans developing a number of ailments and conditions from their days in the armed forces. The ailments and conditions often involve ongoing pain, and many veterans develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Cannabis has been proven to help, as described by NORML:
Veterans are increasingly turning to medical cannabis as an effective alternative to opioids and other conventional medications to treat conditions like chronic pain and post-traumatic stress. A retrospective review of patients’ symptoms published in 2014 in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs reported a greater than 75 percent reduction on a scale of post-traumatic symptom scores following cannabis therapy. This is why, in recent months, two of the largest veterans’ rights groups — AMVETS and the American Legion — have resolved in favor of patients’ access to cannabis therapy.
A recent poll was conducted by Five Corners Strategies in conjunction with the American Legion, which asked veterans specifically about cannabis reform and found the following:
- 81% of veterans support federally-legal treatment
- 60% of respondents do not live in states where medical cannabis is legal
- 40% of respondents live in states where medical cannabis is legal
- 88% of self-identified conservative respondents support federally legalized medical cannabis
- 90% of self-identified liberal respondents support federally legalized medical cannabis
- 70% of self-identified non-partisan respondents support federally legalized medical cannabis
- 100% of respondents aged 18-30 support federally legalized medical cannabis
Many military veterans obviously want to use medical cannabis. Cannabis is safer than the pharmaceutical drugs that veterans have pushed on them at an alarming rate. Science clearly shows that cannabis can help treat conditions such as chronic pain and PTSD. Polling shows that 93% of Americans support legalizing cannabis for medical use. With all of that in mind, it should be a no brainer for members of Congress to support expanding much needed medical marijuana access to our nation’s veterans, right?
Unfortunately, there is one member of Congress that does not agree with such a move – Representative Pete Sessions (R-Texas). Earlier this year the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 24-7 to include the Veterans Equal Access amendment as part of the 2018 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, which would have expanded much needed medical marijuana access to military veterans. When the amendment came to the other chamber of Congress, House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) blocked a vote on the measure, effectively killing it. Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer had the following to say about it via a press release he issued at the time:
“Given that veterans are more likely to commit suicide or die from opiate overdoses than civilians, our fight to provide them safer alternatives won’t stop here. We have stronger support in the House and Senate than ever before, and we will keep advocating for a more rational approach.”
The bipartisan amendment was co-sponsored by: Representatives Justin Amash (R-MI), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Luis Correa (D-CA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Tom Garrett (R-VA), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Jared Polis (D-CO), Tom Reed (R-NY), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), and Don Young (R-AK).
A similar amendment passed in the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this month by a 24-7 vote.
Background: Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) specifically prohibits its medical providers from completing forms allowing a qualified veteran to participate in a state medical marijuana program. This forces veterans out of the VA system to seek a simple recommendation for treatment for eligible conditions under state laws.
On October 6, 2017 I was fortunate enough to attend the launch of The Cannabis Fund, which is a PAC created by Congressman Earl Blumenauer. The PAC was created for one purpose – to hold anti-cannabis politicians accountable. Blumenauer discussed the PAC’s goal in a recent article with the Statesman Journal:
“The American people overwhelming support cannabis reform, and we have more support than ever in Congress. I launched the Cannabis Fund to keep up this momentum.
“I want to see even more pro-cannabis candidates elected to Congress and continue the wave of reforms happening at the state level. And we want to make clear that there are consequences for those elected officials opposing what a majority of the public supports,” he said.
The first target, as announced at The Cannabis Fund launch in Portland that I attended, is Pete Sessions. Blumenauer is planning on putting up billboards in Sessions’ district asking why Sessions is denying military veterans the medicine that they need. News of Blumenauer’s intentions obviously became known to cannabis opponents, who tried beating Blumenauer to the punch by putting up their own billboard, thanking Sessions for opposing cannabis legalization:
Their billboard fell flat (as Project S.A.M. ideas usually do), and completely sidestepped the purpose behind Blumenauer’s billboard. Cannabis legalization for adult use is different than allowing VA doctors to help military veterans access an effective medicine. Obviously both should be supported, but what Project S.A.M. is trying to do with their billboard is muddy the conversation, and therefore harm the constructiveness of the discussion that is desperately needed. It’s a classic Project S.A.M. tactic. Sessions has also been sidestepping the cannabis-for-veterans issue, putting out generic comments that do not directly address why he opposes expanding medical cannabis access for veterans. That was on display in the reply he sent to the Statesman Journal in the article previously linked to:
“The merchants of addiction are attempting to influence our work and it’s my hope that we will see this problem as a national crisis.”
Sessions has long been anti-legalization and will do all he can to protect families from America’s drug crisis, Caroline Boothe, a spokeswoman for Sessions, said in an email.
“While he is always open to listening about new developments, especially when it comes to helping our nation’s veterans, he will not compromise the safety of our communities,” Boothe said.
Think about that response. The same guy that is fighting to maintain the pharmaceutical status quo that is causing enormous harm to the American military veteran community is referring to cannabis supporters as ‘merchants of addiction.’ If that is not a slap in the face to logic and compassion, I don’t know what is. Cannabis has been proven to help people suffering from PTSD. Cannabis has been proven to help people that are suffering from chronic pain. Cannabis has been proven to reduce people’s reliance on opioids, as determined by all of the studies below:
“The treatment of chronic pain with medicinal cannabis in this open-label, prospective cohort resulted in improved pain and functional outcomes, and a significant reduction in opioid use.” - Haroutounian S, Ratz Y, Ginosar Y, Furmanov K, Saifi F, Meidan R, Davidson E. (2016)
“Among respondents that regularly used opioids, over three-quarters (76.7%) indicated that they reduced their use since they started medical cannabis.” - Piper BJ1,2,3, DeKeuster RM4,5, Beals ML6, Cobb CM4,7, Burchman CA8,9, Perkinson L10, Lynn ST10, Nichols SD11, Abess AT12 (2017)
“Among study participants, medical cannabis use was associated with a 64% decrease in opioid use (n = 118), decreased number and side effects of medications, and an improved quality of life (45%). This study suggests that many CP patients are essentially substituting medical cannabis for opioids and other medications for CP treatment, and finding the benefit and side effect profile of cannabis to be greater than these other classes of medications.” - Boehnke KF, Litinas E, Clauw DJ. (2016)
“All prescriptions for scheduled medications must be reported to the New Mexico Prescription Monitoring Program with opiates and benzodiazepines being the two most common. Based on these prescription records, patients enrolled in the medical cannabis program reduced the monthly average number of prescriptions, types of prescriptions (drug classes), number of prescribers, and number of related pharmacy visits. 71% of medical cannabis program enrollees either ceased or reduced their use of scheduled prescriptions within 6 months of enrolling.” - Stith, S. S., et al (2017)
“The growing body of research supporting the medical use of cannabis as an adjunct or substitute for opioids creates an evidence-based rationale for governments, health care providers, and academic researchers to consider the implementation and assessment of cannabis-based interventions in the opioid crisis.” - Philippe Lucas (2017)
“The majority of patients in this study believed that medical marijuana is a valid treatment and that it does have a role in reducing post-injury and post-operative pain. Those patients who used marijuana during their recovery felt that it alleviated symptoms of pain and reduced their opioid intake.” - Heng, Marilyn MD, MPH, FRCSC; McTague, Michael F. MPH; Lucas, Robert C. BA; Harris, Mitchel B. MD; Vrahas, Mark S. MD; Weaver, Michael J. MD (2017)
Pete Sessions is quick to spout off reefer madness talking points and catch phrases, but proposed solutions is completely absent whenever he is talking about medical cannabis and veterans. Yes, Pete, we understand that you don’t want veterans using medical cannabis, despite all of the science and compassion involved. But what are you proposing instead? Because so far all Pete Sessions has offered up is empty talking points and ruthless vote blocking which is effectively offering up nothing more than the pharmaceutical status quo. The pharmaceutical status quo is unacceptable. America’s military veterans deserve better. If you would like to contact Representative Pete Sessions to ask him why he lacks compassion for veterans, you can do so at this link here.
Yesterday the organization Texas Veterans for Medical Marijuana held a press conference to call on Pete Sessions to have some compassion for military veterans who want to make the safer choice. The organization unveiled their own mobile billboard, which will be working its way around Dallas throughout Veterans Day weekend. Pete Sessions needs to put his personal outdated political views aside and listen to these veterans. This is not about politics, it’s about compassion for suffering military veterans. Below is the full video of the press conference. A HUGE hat tip to the veterans involved with the effort, and to military veterans everywhere. Thanks you for your service!!!!