New Challenge to Federal Marijuana Ban Could Provide Relief to Thousands of Vets

New Challenge to Federal Marijuana Ban Could Provide Relief to Thousands of Vets
Source: AP
Source: AP

A bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers have drafted a powerful new challenge to the federal government's ban on marijuana.

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), along with 10 of their colleagues, are co-sponsoring a bill that would give doctors the option to recommend medical marijuana to war veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterans Affairs physicians are currently barred from offering any opinion on the potential effects of the drug to their patients.

The Veterans Equal Access Act would allow VA doctors to give recommendations and, in any of the 23 states that have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, the discretion to fill out the appropriate legal forms. It's estimated that as many as 1 in 5 Iraq and Afghanistan war vets suffer from PTSD or depression.

"Post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury are just as damaging and harmful as any injuries that are visible from the outside," Blumenauer said, according to the Huffington Post. "Sometimes even more so because of the devastating effect they can have on a veteran's family. 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."

The results of a clinical study published in May showed that patients experienced "an average of 75 percent reduction in all three areas of PTSD symptoms while using cannabis." This is tied to what doctors call "memory extinction," the normal "process by which our brain replaces older memories with new experiences."

Researchers, including renowned Israeli scientist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, now believe that "marijuana could help patients reduce their association between stimuli (perhaps loud noises or stress) and the traumatic situations in their past," as reported by Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access.

"Conscience dictates that we not coldly ignore these desperate men and women, and that we remove government from its paternalistic stance between patient and doctor," said Rohrabacher, a California Republican who, along with Blumenauer, is also pushing for Congress to consider scrapping all federal prohibition laws.

While those efforts are unlikely to gain much traction on Capitol Hill, where legislators remain overwhelmingly opposed to mass legalization or decriminalization, this new bill demands a serious review by congressional leaders. Twenty-two American veterans commit suicide every day. If a trained physician believes that marijuana could save or aid a single one, then leaders from both parties should, with President Barack Obama's support, move to change the law now — or be forced the carry the shame of their inaction.

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Gregory Krieg

Greg Krieg is a senior staff writer at Mic, covering politics. He is based in New York and can be reached at greg@mic.com.

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