Suffering military veterans are second only to sick children in convincing otherwise-impossible-to-please lawmakers, law-enforcement officials, and members of the general public that medical marijuana is both real and good.
Due to a particularly ugly twist of history, there are no shortage of struggling veterans in America today. More than 2.7 million soldiers, sailors, Marines, and other personnel have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 — and as of 2017, nearly 970,000 have been classified with some kind of war-related disability. If it weren’t for this ghastly toll and the relief from suicidal tendencies and opiate addiction that veterans claim cannabis provides, it is hard to imagine so many sitting U.S. senators eagerly saying that providing weed to vets is a good idea, as a vital Veterans Affairs Committee panel did recently.
But well before the “war on terror” and “PTSD” became household words, veterans were using cannabis to deal with the horror and pity of war. It was a former Air Force enlisted man named Dennis Peron who smuggled a few pounds of Thai weed back to San Francisco in his duffel bag, and Peron — the de-facto “father” of medical marijuana — would later famously say that “all use of marijuana is medical.”
And yet, not everyone who needs to listen to stories like Peron’s will do so. Messengers matter — which would explain why Nick Etten has so much value. Etten is a former Navy SEAL from the Chicago area. He served in the SEALs in the 1990s, and he has made advocating for medical marijuana his post-military calling, as the Chicago Sun-Times recently reported.
Let’s consider the context for a second. Navy SEALs are damn near unimpeachable. Navy SEALs killed Osama Bin Laden and a former Navy SEAL is the U.S. Secretary of the Interior (a position Ryan Zinke has reached in no small part — or perhaps entirely — because he was a Navy SEAL).
Thus, Etten, who last year confounded the Veterans Cannabis Project after a career in finance, is in a unique position to affect policy. This is not to take anything away from the myriad veteran-founded, veteran-funded and veteran-geared cannabis access projects. Far from it. It is, however, to point out the perhaps sad fact that a bunch of old white guys in suits — that is: federal lawmakers — are going to give more time and space to another older white guy in a suit, and Etten fits that bill.
Handily, he’s also a Republican. And with a Republican-controlled Congress with Republican committee chairmen blocking cannabis reform, “we’ve gotta change the minds of Republicans,” Etten told the newspaper.
So Etten is the right person to show up in Congress to tell committee hearings that veterans have a suicide rate 22 percent higher than other Americans and that they are twice as likely to die from the kind of accidental drug overdose that is now the leading cause of death among all Americans. He is the right person to remind committee hearings that 82 percent of American veterans want medical-marijuana legalized nationally. Not the only right person — but messengers and packages matter, and people like Etten — who are exactly the kind of people the lawmakers blocking vital marijuana reform like to emulate and to court, are ready-made for the mission.
TELL US, are you a veteran?