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Veterans Are Often Forced to the Illegal Market Despite Cannabis Legalization

Ashley Priest

by Ashley Priest

July 22, 2020 12:33 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
Veterans Are Often Forced to the Illegal Market Despite Cannabis Legalization

Aside from the atrocities military personnel must face in the line of duty, many aspects of service continue to knock at their door daily, even after returning to civilian life. One aspect of service that many veterans live with daily is known as PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This condition, which has affected veterans since the beginning of wars, was once known as Vietnam Veterans’ Disorder and was initially referred to as ‘Shell Shock’. 

General William Tecumseh Sherman noted that “war is hell” during the times of the Civil War. Not only does it cause hell for political powers and civilians caught in the crossfire, but it is a hell that seems to never end for those on the front lines even after returning home.

The Long Living Hell of Military Related PTSD

This condition which causes sufferers to re-experience trauma through intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, and memories also causes many sufferers to feel very anxious and on edge, to have difficulty sleeping, to experience angry outbursts, to engage in self-destructive behaviors, and to avoid certain activities and places that may bring about difficult emotions reminding them of their initial trauma. Many people that have PTSD, including veterans, also notice negative changes in their thinking pattern, difficulty concentrating, isolation from friends and family, and frequent mood swings.

According to statistics from the US Department of Veteran Affairs, 11-20 out of every 100 veterans who served during Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom will be diagnosed with PTSD in a given year. That means roughly 11 to 20% of veterans who served in wars in the past two decades will be diagnosed with PTSD. Approximately 12% of Gulf War Veterans have PTSD annually, and roughly 15% of Vietnam veterans still have PTSD today. It is estimated that about 30% of all veterans from the Vietnam War have had PTSD at some point since ending their service.

Veterans PTSD Stats

Cannabis is a Saving Grace for Many Veterans with PTSD

PTSD is one condition that cannabis has shown to offer drastic benefits. There is substantial research backing cannabis and its efficiency at treating the symptoms of PTSD as well as many anecdotal claims. Aside from the fact that cannabis was a saving grace for each veteran highlighted in this story; they also had some other similarities. 

One is directly related to how veterans who choose to utilize cannabis are obtaining their medication. Whether veterans live in a state with a legal cannabis market or not has nothing to do with how medicine is obtained. Despite 33 states having legal, medical cannabis programs in the United States, the majority of veterans who utilize cannabis obtain it from the illicit and unregulated market. 

The Federal Fog

This is for several reasons. The very gray area and smokescreen that exists between federal and state laws put veterans in a very vicarious place similar to banks. While banks are federally insured, military professionals such as veterans receive benefits from the VA, which is a federally funded and regulated department. For this reason, veterans risk the loss of the VA benefits if they register within a state-licensed medical cannabis program. This risk alone is enough to deter many veterans from participating in regulated legal state programs. Instead, many choose to purchase their cannabis products from the illicit market.

Price Plays a Pivotal Place in Purchasing Product

Another driving factor for this purchasing decision is purely monetary. For many PTSD veteran patients, to obtain the amount of cannabis products required to medicate each day, it would cost around $50 a day. That is approximately $1,500 a month to medicate. While this is a price worth paying to many as cannabis provides relief when many traditional treatments and medicines have failed, it is out of reach for many. Unfortunately, most insurance companies do not reimburse for the costs of medical cannabis, meaning that the patient has to pay out of pocket. 

Potential Issues Obtaining Employment

Unfortunately, the risk of losing their VA benefits and the cost to procure cannabis aren’t the only two aspects that play a role in deciding to purchase from the black market. Having their name included in a state registry for medical cannabis can also bring up red flags when veterans are on the hunt for employment. Despite cannabis being legal at the state level for qualifying patients, many employers still doubt potential employees that utilize a plant that has been widely criminalized and demonized for much of our lifetimes. 

Medical Cannabis Program Participation Could Result in a Loss of Second Amendment Rights

Another aspect that many veterans are not keen on when it comes to registering in state-legal markets is the federal law surrounding controlled substances and firearms. Current federal gun regulations prohibit the “users” of “any controlled substance” from shipping, purchasing, possessing, transporting, or receiving ammunition or firearms. This means that if a veteran was to registered in a state cannabis program and were to want to purchase a gun, they might not be able to because of federal laws and the gray area that exists between state markets and the federal illegality of cannabis in any form.

Veterans Are Speaking Out About Cannabis

Many veteran groups have started to speak out about cannabis use among veterans and the issues that exist. These groups include everyone from the American Legion, which urged Congress to remove cannabis from the restricted classification of a schedule 1 substance, to cannabis veterans groups such as the Weed for Warriors Project. The WFWP is a “social justice lifestyle brand supporting holistic rehabilitation for veterans through community-based projects, proactive care advocacy, cannabis education, and compassion WFWP urges change for the empowerment of the people.”

Are you a veteran that utilizes the power of cannabis to find much-needed relief? Do you purchase from the legal or illicit market? We would love to hear from you so please keep the conversation going in the comments below!

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