When it comes to medical care, few people would argue that war veterans deserve nothing but the very best that our country has to offer. For all that they have done for our country and for all they have been through, wounded veterans should be receiving only the best, most effective, and least harmful treatment.
But what if that treatment is weed?
According to a new bill that has been introduced in the House, medical marijuana has the ability to ease physical pain, stress, and anxiety, and should be available to war veterans as a legitimate medical treatment option. The legislation is called the Veterans Equal Access Act and it would allow the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ (VA) doctors to recommend marijuana as a treatment option for some patients.
The Current State of Veterans’ Medical Affairs
Currently, millions of veterans receive their primary health care from VA doctors. But the VA is a federal entity, and since marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug and is illegal at the federal level, VA doctors cannot prescribe it. This is in spite of the fact that many states have already decriminalized medical marijuana; even in the states where medical marijuana is legal, the drug cannot be prescribed by VA doctors. This means that the millions of veterans who receive their care from the VA are not allowed access to something that has potential to significantly better their lives.
Instead, veterans are routinely being prescribed opioids and other so-called “safe” pharmaceuticals, many of which can lead to dependence and can drag users through agonizing withdrawal symptoms. According to NPR, one in three vets polled say they’re on 10 different medications, none of which are without side effects. The side effects of these drugs range from stomach upset to full-fledged addiction.
For many veterans, medical marijuana would be a welcome alternative to opioid treatment.
Because marijuana cannot legally be prescribed as a treatment option by VA doctors, many veterans are choosing to take matters into their own hands and self-medicate. But if they’re caught, they can face possession charges just for trying to alleviate medical distress.
As Rep. Earl Blumenauer says, this simply should not be happening. “We should be allowing these wounded warriors access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana, not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows.”
Of course, support for medical marijuana use is growing. In recent years, marijuana use has been consistently gaining support across the nation. (By 2015, six states will allow the recreational use of marijuana; 24 will allow the use of medical marijuana.) Clearly and indisputably, the tide is turning. Unfortunately, there is no telling how long it will take for this new wave to reach the VA, and until then our veterans are being forced to resort to illegal acts.
If The Veteran’s Equal Access Act passes, it could mean a major breakthrough for veterans. It would mean a new, potentially safer method for treating afflictions from physical pain to PTSD, without worrying about the addiction or painful side effects that often accompany opioids.
For now, though, marijuana use remains illegal in Illinois and the penalties for possessing the drug can range from 30 days in jail to multiple years and thousands of dollars in fines. If you find yourself in legal trouble as a result of possessing or using marijuana, don’t allow societal biases to hold you down. Make sure you understand all of your legal options and contact a local knowledgeable drug crimes attorney as soon as possible.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.