Family members of veterans who took their lives while battling post-traumatic stress disorder are speaking out this week against Trump administration’s alleged closed-door effort to try and spread negative information about marijuana.
Last week, a report from Buzzfeed News alleged that the president had convened a secret committee to gather negative data on cannabis legalization, which made waves on both sides of the aisle and within the cannabis industry. While many of Trump’s supporters declared the report to be “fake news,” a powerful voice emerged in favor of cannabis in the report’s aftermath from the women who believe their partners and family members may have survived had medical cannabis been a treatment option for veterans.
Sarasota Herald-Tribune Staff Writer Billy Cox spoke with women across the country about losing their loved ones to PTSD. The tale started with the story of Alan and Amber Younger. Cox chronicled Amber’s experience watching Alan react to the loss of someone he served with in the Army to suicide, eventually leading to him taking his own life.
“I personally watched the [Department of Veterans Affairs] dump tons of toxic drugs into his system with no alternative, [and] with serious side effects,” Younger said. “I think if medical marijuana had been an option my husband would still be alive … It is time for our politicians to stand on the side of our military.”
The same day Younger’s quotes were published, two politicians did take action in Congress.
Senate Introduces Bill to Legalize Pot for Veterans
On Wednesday, Sept. 5, two Democratic senators introduced a bill that would effectively legalize medical cannabis for veterans and allow government doctors to prescribe it to their veteran patients.
The bill, named the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, comes from Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida and Sen. Brian Schatz from Hawaii. Unfortunately, the bill would only allow veterans in states with legal cannabis to access the plant. Veterans living in states with recreational or medical cannabis would still fall under federal prohibition.
While there hasn’t been much research conducted on the benefits of treating PTSD with cannabis, anecdotal evidence has piled up in favor of the plant and more than 20 states consider PTSD to be a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. Right now, the first controlled clinical trial of cannabis for PTSD is underway.
When the Veterans Affairs Department released their most recent available data this past June, they noted suicide prevention was the agency’s highest clinical priority. Despite their efforts, the report found veterans suicide rates were 2.1 times higher than for adults who have not served.
“In 2015, an average of 20.6 active-duty service members, non-activated guard or reserve members, and other veterans died by suicide each day,” the report read. “6.1 of these were veterans who had recently used VHA services.”
Widows of Veterans Speak Out Against Trump’s Alleged Anti-Pot Committee
Military mom Janine Lutz, whose son Johnny died in 2013, also spoke to Cox at the Herald-Tribune. At age 24, Johnny intentionally overdosed on a drug prescribed to help him with preventing suicidal thoughts. She believes a big factor in the current limited state of cannabis access for veterans is the major money the pharmaceutical industry is poised to lose if cannabis is legalized, despite the increasingly positive tone of the national conversation on cannabis over the last decade.
“Can you imagine the financial loss they will take if only we the people get off all the dangerous sleep aids and they use medical marijuana just for sleep alone?” Lutz told Cox.
Judy Crain Turner spoke directly to the Trump administration’s moves against cannabis. Her husband, Peter, took his life nine years ago in West Virginia. She was also at home at the time and it was their granddaughter’s third birthday.
“My message to elected officials is this,” she said. “We have reached a time where the combined suicide rates of veterans and the opioid crisis (are) far more deadly and damaging than whatever real or perceived risks there are with medical marijuana.”
The wave of support in the nation’s capital for veterans having access to medical marijuana is one of the fastest growing policy areas in cannabis policy. With organizations like the American Legion joining the chorus that’s been talking on the issue for years recently, hope levels are high. When the Legion got involved last year in cannabis politics, Media Relations Director Joe Plenzer told Cannabis Now they were actively lobbying both houses of Congress. They should have plenty of opportunity with more pot bills these days than ever before.
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