INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana — One of the leading advocates for American veterans for a century has become an unlikely champion of ending the federal prohibition of marijuana.
The two-million strong American Legion has joined those calling for an end to the federal ban for a variety of reasons, but none so pressing as saving the lives of veterans who have returned from combat duty with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
“We’ve got young men and women with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries coming to us and saying that cannabis works,” legion spokesman Joe Plenzler told The New York Times.
The legion was founded at the end of World War I in 1919.
Rather than doctors prescribing “zombie drugs,” the legion notes that marijuana has been proven to decrease pain and the suicide rate of returning soldiers.
The usual opioids and antidepressants used today can cause mood swings and suicidal thoughts. According to the NYT article, using medical marijuana such as cannabis, also helps get rid of chronic pain and reduce muscle spasms in patients with multiple sclerosis.
This month, legion released a survey that 92 percent of respondents (drawn from 800 veterans and caregivers) supported research into medical cannabis for the purpose of treating mental or physical conditions. Eighty-two percent said they wanted cannabis as a federally legal treatment option.
Louis Celli, the group’s national director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation, said that even in states where marijuana is legal, soldiers suffer from the stigma that comes with the federal prohibition, saying soldiers are often put by urine tests and told not to use the drug.
Last year, the American Legion petitioned the government to remove the drug from list of Schedule 1 narcotics which includes heroin, LSD, and drugs with “no accepted medical use” and high potential for abuse. They also called on the Drug Enforcement Administration to license private funded growers in support of medical research. Due to marijuana being a Schedule 1 drug, research on its medical applications is limited.
Nevertheless, there is one political force stopping the progression of marijuana use. While Donald Trump campaigned on support of medical marijuana use at the state level, his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has vowed to reinvigorate the war on drugs and crackdown on legalization efforts.
More representatives on the right have joined their progressive colleagues to support federal decriminalization. Recently, Republican representative Matt Gaetz of Florida joined forces with Darren Sato, a Florida Democrat, to sponsor a bill to drop the drug down to Schedule 3 alongside drugs such as codeine and anabolic steroids.