Buzz kill: States might have legalized pot, but the feds still haven't
Marijuana, along with nine other substances, is specifically prohibited under Article 112a of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and penalties for its use can range from a general discharge to dishonorable discharge (for positive results of a urinalysis) and even imprisonment for possession.
During election week, four states legalized medicinal marijuana use, joining a list of 40 states and the District of Columbia in saying "Mary Jane is a friend of mine — in some form or another."
The federal government, however, is saying "not if you value your 2nd amendment rights."
Currently, marijuana is legal for recreational use in Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Washington D.C.
Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota all voted last week to allow medical marijuana use, joining 17 other states who acknowledge the medicinal value of cannabis.
Outside of those 29 states, limited medical marijuana use (which generally refers to cannabis extracts) is legal in 15 other states.
The states that don't allow any type of marijuana use are Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Indiana, and West Virginia.
While the Veterans Administration admits that it hasn't conducted any studies to determine if medical marijuana can successfully treat PTSD, they do admit that there seems to be anecdotal evidence to support that claim.
Use of "oral CBD [cannabidiol] has been shown to decrease anxiety in those with and without clinical anxiety" the VA notes.
The VA goes on to explain that an ongoing trial of THC, one of the compounds in cannabis, shows the compound to be "safe and well tolerated" among participants with PTSD, and that it results in "decreased hyperarousal symptoms."
According to an investigation by PBS's "Frontline," marijuana's "danger" label came about predominantly as a result of a smear campaign against immigrants between 1900 and the 1930s.
The network acknowledges a report from the New York Academy of Medicine that states that, despite popular opinion, marijuana does not "induce violence, insanity or sex crimes, or lead to addiction or other drug use." That report has not been refuted by scientific research to date.
In 1972, President Nixon ordered the Shafer Commission to look at decriminalizing marijuana use, and the commission determined that the personal use of it should, in fact be decriminalized.
President Nixon, according to PBS, rejected that recommendation.
To this day, marijuana use and possession is a federal crime, despite being overwhelmingly accepted by nearly all of the country in some form or another.
So why does this matter to the military and veteran community?
It all comes down to federal law. While a majority of the country recognizes the benefits and harmlessness of cannabis, the federal government does not.
In fact, the feds say marijuana users immediately forfeit their Second Amendment rights by consuming cannabis.
On September 7th the Washington Post reported that the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that federal law "prohibits gun purchases by an 'unlawful user and/or addict of any controlled substance.' "
The court claims that marijuana users "experience altered or impaired mental states that affect their judgement" and that this impaired judgement leads to "irrational" behavior, despite the findings by both the New York Academy of Medicine and the Shafer Commission to the contrary.
Background checks for firearms purchases require buyers to acknowledge whether they are a "habitual user" of marijuana and other illegal drugs. If they truthfully answer "yes," they are barred from buying a gun. That means gun buyers in states that legalized marijuana use had better not indulge in the new right.
Will this change any time soon?
To answer that question, one needs to look at how legalization has impacted the finances in the states that have made pot kosher. After-all, money makes the world go 'round.
According to CheatSheet, Oregon banked $3.5 million in its first month of recreational marijuana sales. Washington State hit the jackpot with $70 million its first year, and Colorado rolled a fat one with $135 million in 2015 alone.
That was enough for the U.S. Congress to pause and say "let's think about this." Currently sitting in the Senate right now is S.683 , or the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act (CARES).
Introduced by Democrat New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker in March 2015, the act moves to transfer marijuana from a schedule I to a schedule II drug, protect marijuana dispensaries from being penalized for selling marijuana, and directs the VA to authorize medical providers to "provide veterans with recommendations and opinions regarding participation in state marijuana programs", among other things.
To give an idea of what a schedule II drug is, the U.S. Department of Justice lists ADHD medication as a schedule II drug.
So when will marijuana use be decriminalized on a federal level? It's too soon to tell.
Until then, veterans will have to choose between our pot and our guns.