2017 was a watershed year for veterans and marijuana access but recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reversing an Obama-era policy that helped pave a path for legalized weed to flourish across the country.
Sessions will, instead, empower federal prosecutors where marijuana is legal to decide how aggressively (or not) to enforce the federal pot law.
The initiative comes just days after California opened its doors to legal retail marijuana business.
The move by the country’s top lawyer will likely add more confusion about whether it’s permissible to grow, purchase, or consume pot in the 8 states, plus the District of Columbia, where it’s legal, because federal law still prohibits the plant.
While Sessions has been carrying out a Justice Department agenda that follows Trump’s priorities on issues like immigration, this weed policy change seems to reflect his own views as Trump’s personal stance on marijuana remain largely unknown.
“The creating of knowledge that this drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it’s not funny, it’s not something to laugh about. And, trying to send that message with clarity that good people don’t smoke marijuana,” Sessions said in 2016, when he served in the Senate.
Here’s how 2017 shaped marijuana access for veterans.
The U.S. Air Force announced that previous marijuana use will not disqualify potential recruits.
New Mexico’s state legislature advanced a medical marijuana bill that would have allowed all military vets to qualify as patients. The bill was never up for a vote in the New Mexico state senate.
Researchers with the non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), made national headlines when they criticized the poor quality and low potency of the federally-grown marijuana made available to them by the federal government. The group is a sponsor of an FDA-approved study of marijuana’s benefits to treat post-traumatic stress (PTS) in veterans.
Veterans in Texas rallied alongside conservative Christian mothers at the state Capitol advocating for medical marijuana legislation.
In Delaware, a bill allowing for the expansion of medical marijuana to include anxiety conditions, such as PTS, was introduced but stalled in the states senate. A weaker bill passed days later.
The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans service organization, called on President Trump to reclassify marijuana from its current federal Schedule I status to “clear the way for clinical research in the cutting edge areas of cannabinoid receptor research.”
Legion officials have repeatedly stressed they are not advocating for straight marijuana legalization, but want more research into the medical benefits of the plant.
VA Secretary David Shulkin, a medical doctor, said to reporters at the White House that while federal law prevents the agency from implementing any potential benefits of marijuana for veterans, he added, “I believe that everything that could help veterans should be debated by Congress and by medical experts, and we will implement that law. So, if there is compelling evidence that this is helpful, I hope that people take a look at that and come up with the right decision, and then we will implement that.”
Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, signed a bill into law that adds PTS as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana patients. The bill came after years of lobbying in the state by veterans.
The American Legion passed a resolution at its annual national convention urging the federal government to “permit VA medical providers to be able to discuss with veterans the use of marijuana for medical purposes and recommend it in those states where medical marijuana laws exist.”
At that same event, Dr. Sue Sisley, the researcher who supervises the first ever federally-approved clinical trial on the effectiveness of medical marijuana as treatment for vets with PTS, warned that the Arizona-based study was in jeopardy if the Phoenix VA didn’t participate with patient recruitment.
The American Legion went a step further and called on the VA to clear away the needless obstacles that threaten the groundbreaking MAPS study on using pot to treat PTS in veterans.
All 10 Democratic representatives on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs sent a letter to Shulkin in October strongly urging him to ensure the VA’s research and development office fulfills its missions by allowing research into the plant, and its effects on PTS.
A survey sponsored by the American Legion found that 81 percent of veterans and 83 percent of veteran caregivers support the federal legalization of weed to treat some physical or mental conditions, often from a result of war.
Bipartisan members of Congress, with several combat vets and the mother of a Marine who committed suicide after struggling with pharmaceuticals prescribed by the VA, strongly urged Congress to support initiatives for medical marijuana research.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill, on Veterans Day, which added PTS to the list of conditions that can legally be treated with medical marijuana in the state.
The Marijuana Policy Project announced 28 states, along with Washington, D.C., includes PTS in their medical marijuana programs, a figure that doubled over the past two years.
A new VA policy directive allowed for doctors and patients, who live in medical marijuana states, to discuss cannabis use in a free and honest way, something that was maddeningly previously prohibited.
Even with marijuana use and its medical advocacy being at a record sky-high, the progress that’s been made—and that’ll continue in 2018—hangs in the balance of the personal views of a 71-year old Attorney General.