The nation’s largest military veterans organization is officially calling on the federal government to reschedule marijuana.
The American Legion, which has more than 2 million members, passed a resolution at its annual convention last week urging Congress to “amend legislation to remove marijuana from schedule I and reclassify it in a category that, at a minimum will recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value.”
Dr. Sue Sisley, one of the researchers for the first federally-approved study examining medical cannabis’s benefits for people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a driving force behind the effort to get the American Legion on board, said the organization’s support will propel the debate about the issue.
“I consider this a major breakthrough for such a conservative veterans organization,” she told Marijuana.com. “Suddenly the American Legion has a tangible policy statement on cannabis that will allow them to lobby and add this to their core legislative agenda. The organization has a massive amount of influence at all levels.”
Sisley, who spoke at the American Legion convention in Cincinnati before the vote on the resolution, has been lobbying local American Legion posts to endorse her research for the past two years.
“I was surprised to see how many of the local posts were eager to support our work but I wondered how we could ever get the national office to examine this,” she said, adding that she met with with key American Legion national staff over the past year. After hearing how marijuana’s Schedule I status impedes research into the benefits it can bring to veterans suffering from physical and psychological war wounds, leadership ended up inviting Sisley to present at a forum on PTSD and traumatic brain injury in January. That was received well, and the organization then invited her to speak at the national convention last week.
— Louis Celli (@LouisCelli) September 5, 2016
Calling the resolution an “historic shift in public policy,” Sisley said that her plenary presentation to the full convention was probably the first time the word “cannabis” has ever been uttered on the organization’s main stage.
“I only heard very positive feedback from the thousands of veterans in the audience,” she said. “I was stunned at how little controversy there was. It seems highly unanimous among American Legion members that we owe it to the veteran community to demand end to the barriers to this kind of cannabis research. In light of the epidemic of veteran suicide, the Legion knows they must strive to uncover new treatments for PTSD/opioid epidemic, etc.”
The American Legion’s call for rescheduling comes less than a month after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) rejected long-pending petitions to reclassify marijuana from its current status as a Schedule I drug under federal law. That category is supposed to be reserved for substances with no medical value.
Mike Liszewski of Americans for Safe Access said that the American Legion’s stance will aid efforts to convince even more lawmakers support medical cannabis legislation.
“For years, many of the Congressional offices that have been hesitant to vote in favor of medical marijuana reform have asked if groups such as the American Legion have weighed in,” he told Marijuana.com. “With the American Legion joining the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America in supporting federal medical marijuana reform, it will be increasingly difficult for Congressional leadership to continue blocking efforts to expand research and move marijuana out of Schedule I.”
The American Legion resolution, which was sponsored by the group’s Louisiana department, also calls on DEA to begin issuing more licenses to cultivate cannabis for research into its medical benefits, a move which the agency announced it was making on the same day as its denial of rescheduling.
Medical marijuana access for military veterans is an issue that is gaining traction and bipartisan support.
In May, the U.S. House approved an amendment to let veterans get medical cannabis recommendations from Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) doctors by a vote of 233 – 189. On the same day, the Senate passed its version of legislation to fund the V.A. through 2017, which included a medical marijuana provision that had already been attached to the bill by the body’s Appropriations Committee in a vote of 20 – 10.
After bills pass both the House and Senate, Congressional leadership appoints a conference committee made up of members from either chamber who then meet to reconcile the differences into a final package to be sent to the president for enactment.
Marijuana policy observers expected that the conference committee would include protections for veterans who need medical cannabis since the measures passed so handily through bipartisan votes in both chambers.
But the final V.A. spending package approved by negotiators was totally silent on the issue, forcing veterans who want medical marijuana to continue to seek recommendations from doctors outside the V.A., which can be costly and time-consuming.
Congressional leadership is currently renegotiating the veterans funding bill in the wake of an unrelated dispute over funding to fight the Zika virus, so there is still a chance the medical marijuana language can be reinserted before everything is finalized.
Congress reconvenes from its summer recess on Tuesday, and advocates are hoping to hear good news about the veterans legislation soon.
Read the full American Legion resolution on marijuana below:
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Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.