Veterans Hold Memorial Day Push for Medical Cannabis

By Kelly Burch 05/31/18

The veterans participating in the Veterans Rally advocated for the VA to change its medical marijuana policy.

a group of Navy veterans

Veterans from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C. on Monday to advocate for better access to medical cannabis through the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

“Use cannabis, die less,” Mike Krawitz, a 56-year-old disabled U.S. Air Force veteran told “The scientific community has confirmed that cannabis saves lives by avoiding overdoses. VA doctors know this but are obliged not to recommend cannabis for pain and PTSD. And that is unethical.”

The motto of the 2018 Veterans Rally D.C. was “plants over pills.” The veterans who were participating were advocating for the VA to change its policy, which currently bars medical cannabis that many vets believe could help with chronic pain and issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Derek Cloutier, who has PTSD after serving with the Marines, said that he always found it easy to get prescription pills from the VA. He said he has seen veterans turn to selling their VA-issued pills in order to get medical cannabis, which they felt was more effective at relieving their symptoms. 

"I've been told straight by a vet that I can go to a VA hospital and be prescribed opiates, Adderall—anything if they play their cards right, and then go sell the pills on the streets... just so they can buy cannabis and heal themselves," Cloutier told Fox News.

Many vets, he said, are hesitant to use marijuana because it is stigmatized as a street drug. He worked through his own negative perceptions about cannabis before he began using it regularly. Now, he grows his own medical cannabis legally in Massachusetts, which has both a medical and recreational cannabis program. 

"The more I learned about it, the more I educated myself about it... the stigma came down, the stereotypes came down," Cloutier said. "All these walls around me, that I was terrified to say I'm a cannabis user... that's part of the problem."

According to The American Legion, 22% of veterans are already using medical cannabis, despite the fact that it could affect their treatment from the VA. The overwhelming majority of vets (92%) say that they support research into using cannabis to treat a variety of ailments. 

Recently, the VA announced that it would begin to study medical marijuana. However, many veterans believe that there is unlikely to be a policy change under the current administration.  

“VA doctors may be allowed more breathing room in a legal medical marijuana state, but they are afraid to run afoul of the federal government,” Krawitz said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.