Veterans from across the country will be meeting in our capital city on Memorial Day this year not only to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but to advocate for a cause that is not typically associated with a of our nation’s heroes — the legalization of marijuana.
Derek Cloutier (right), director and founder of the New England Veterans Alliance with other veterans at the NECANN cannabis and hemp convention in Burlington, Vermont. Cloutier organized and will speak at a Memorial Day rally in Washington, D. C., promoting veterans’ access to legal marijuana.
The veterans and the lawyers take part in the Memorial Day Veterans Rally in DC hopes to change the stigma around cannabis, the preferred term for marijuana advocates, with the argument that this alternative medicine is all the help of some veterinarians to treat problems such as PTSD, chronic pain and depression — all of this without the use of dangerous and addictive prescription drugs like opioids. One of their rallying cries is “plants over pills,” and they come not only from the usual legal pot hot-spots such as Colorado.
The speakers are travelling to places as far west as Alaska, as far south as Texas and north as New England for the support of the cause, and to share their stories of how the legal marijuana helped ease their pain, relieve the symptoms of PTSD, and even get back into the workforce. Among those scheduled to speak are one of the first responders in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, the mother of a 24-year-old Marine who took his own life after battling PTSD, and the owner of a veteran-operated cannabis company dedicated to medical cannabis for military veterans.”
Beyond a lack of access in all 50 states, proponents say that one of the biggest problems is that the veterans be forced to pay for this alternative treatment out of their own pocket, despite what they say are life-saving results. That is due to the Department of veterans affairs rules, which determine VA doctors still cannot prescribe medicinal marijuana to patients, despite the fact that they are allowed to “discuss the use of marijuana with veterans as part of the comprehensive care of the planning.”
“It is clear that the medical research into the safety and efficacy of cannabis use for medical purposes, now is the time, necessary, and widely supported by the veteran community.”
– Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn.
THE VA GETS INVOLVED IN LEGAL WEED
That could soon change, and the lawyers may wind up with the VA to thank. Earlier this month, Congress passed a bill creating the Department of Veterans affairs the first federal agency to study the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis. The lack of a federal investigation is one of the biggest problems in the debate about the potential benefits of legal cannabis for medical or otherwise.
The Veterans Affairs medical Cannabis Research act (whw) of 2018 was pushed across the finish line thanks to the overwhelming support of the veterans in the whole country. A 2017 survey released by the American Legion, a congressional charted veterans group, found 92 percent of the veteran households to support further research into the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis. Another 83 percent of the veterans said they support the legalization of cannabis nationwide, and 82 percent expressed a desire for a federal-legal treatment option.
In a press release, American Legion officials also noted that veterans not only support more research, “22 percent of veterans are currently using cannabis for the treatment of a medical condition.”
These poll numbers did not fall on deaf ears. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans affairs and himself a doctor, stated “it is clear that the medical research into the safety and efficacy of cannabis use for medical purposes, now is the time, necessary, and widely supported by the veteran community.” Rep. Roe, who is also the co-chairman of the House GOP Doctors Caucus and a member of the Health of the Caucus, listed PTSD specifically advocate for the study, adding that veterans may not be the only ones to benefit from such a study.
The bill, he argued, is “a pragmatic and bipartisan piece of legislation that would advance insight into the effects of medicinal marijuana use and could improve the lives of veterans and other Americans.”
Derek Cloutier, a Marine who now already are using medicinal cannabis for his PTSD and chronic pain, says making the VA study is a good “baby step,” but it is too early to say how much good it will do. In the meantime, he says that many veterans will continue to suffer the consequences of VA policy regarding cannabis use — even in states where the drug is legal. For some it means breaking the law, so that they can get their hands on what they say is a more effective and less dangerous form of treatment.
Merchandise for the New England Veterans of the Alliance, as you can see on the NECANN cannabis and hemp convention in Burlington, Vermont.
“I’ve heard that law by a veterinarian, that I can go to a VA hospital and be prescribed opiates, Adderall — something if they play their cards right, and then selling the pills on the streets… just so they can buy of cannabis and heal itself,” Cloutier says.
Cloutier returned from his deployment in Fallujah, Iraq, and was in a less-than-ideal work situation for a veteran struggling with the symptoms of PTSD — working as a maximum security prison guard. “That reinforces my PTSD ten times,” he says, and it does not help when ISIS began to re-assume control of the same towns that he fought to liberate.
Cloutier would drink heavily in the night to numb himself from his increasing PTSD symptoms, and the stress of his new job. He says that the support groups for veterans, he wasn’t much help, either, with most meetings usually ended with a night of drinking. It was not until a friend recommended cannabis as an alternative to both the alcohol and the prescription drugs Cloutier was taking, that he finally got a good night’s sleep. Along with him came a new purpose in life.
Thanks to the laws in Massachusetts, where Cloutier lives, he is legally allowed to grow and consume their own cannabis. Now, he works tirelessly to help other veterans find that same peace of mind by organizing events such as the Memorial Day rally, and by a group he created called the New England Veterans Alliance (NEVA).
of the problem, according to Cloutier, is that most people-particularly veterans — are still afraid to even talk about cannabis, something he chalks up to the remnants of the so-called “reefer madness” of the beginning of the 20th century. Breaking down these barriers is one of the main reasons that he says he started NEVA.
“I’ve heard that law by a veterinarian, that I can go to a VA hospital and be prescribed opiates, Adderall – something if they play their cards right, and then selling the pills on the streets… just so they can buy of cannabis and heal itself,”
– Derek Cloutier, A Veteran
“The more I learned, the more I educated myself about… the stamp came down, the stereotypes came down,” Cloutier said. “All these walls around me, that I was terrified to say that I am a cannabis user… that is part of the problem.”
With NEVA, Cloutier hopes to connect with and inform veterans who may be thinking about the world of medicinal marijuana, but who are too afraid to ask who the because of VA policy, or the social stigma’s. Since the start of his group, he discovered veterans of the second world war and the war in Vietnam, and even a former VA doctor, that the use of cannabis for the treatment.
A marijuana plant flourishes under grow lights at a warehouse in Denver.
(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, File)
While Cloutier obviously considers it a victory when he convinces veterinarians to dump their opioid prescriptions for cannabis, he notes that there are plenty of other benefits to getting to know more about cannabis. A lot of of the NEVA’s of the members have their new knowledge to jobs in the ever growing cannabis industry.
And even if it does not lead to a job, Cloutier argues that the process of growing and cultivating the plant itself can be a big advantage, especially for those who have served. “The biggest benefit is giving a vet a purpose,” Cloutier said. “Not everyday I will want to get up and care for [my plants], but I have to if I want to help myself. You need to check on the water, to care for it.
“In the army, which is the opposite of what you’re doing, at least for an infantry man like me. You’re taught to destroy, you are war-torn and battle-ready, but cannabis brings people together — growing, smoking, and consuming. And it is something that will continue to bring people together more and more,” he argued.
“ONE HIGH FOR ANOTHER”
Not all veterans agree with Cloutier. Fellow Marine and retired Staff Sgt. Johnny Joey Jones says that he tried cannabis, and argues that the veterans who use it to ween themselves off of prescription drugs, such as opioids are just “trading one high for another.” He says what we really need to do, is solve the problems that veterans are coming home, not only adding a new type of band-aid that says he doesn’t even have a lot of research.
Jones agrees that the VA is conducting the official investigation is a good first step, but he is also concerned that his fellow vets are becoming “pawns” in what is quickly becoming a multimillion-dollar chess game between lawmakers and lobbyists.
Some of Jones’ fellow vets, and even some of his family used cannabis — and suggested he try it for yourself. One of them has managed to remain pills for five years because of it, but Jones is still not convinced.
And when it comes to the potential job benefits, or the therapy that proponents say can come by simply growing the plant, Jones had a simple answer. “I went to Loews and for $500 I bought all the tools and equipment I need for making furniture in my garage,” he said. “And that is something I can do legally in all 50 states.”