As municipalities, like Seattle, and entire states, like California, move toward expunging cannabis convictions, how will veterans be affected?
Indeed, many military veterans have been discharged and even incarcerated for cannabis use during their time of service. They’ve also been subject to arrest afterward, in their bid to treat innumerable medical conditions caused by the ravages of war.
However, veterans are fighting back against outdated policies. According to Stars and Stripes, former members of the armed forces are pursuing a class-action lawsuit against the United States Navy in relation to biased charges. Particularly, the case claims the Navy has been biased toward those suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder, which is an unfortunately common disorder following active service in the military. The lawsuit is supported by the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress, a Connecticut-based advocacy group.
Cannabis can be especially crucial for veterans suffering from PTSD, as well as physical injuries sustained during their deployment. The medicinal plant has healing properties that help people cope with flashbacks and other emotional symptoms. And veterans agree, with 1 in 5 Americans supporting medical cannabis for PTSD and chronic pain.
However, even after veterans return home, there are consequences they must face due to their cannabis consumption. 89.3 KPCC reports veterans who receive medical care from the Veterans Health Administration (which is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs and one of the largest healthcare networks in the entire country, serving over 9 million people) are consuming a drug that the federal government still considers a Schedule I substance under the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Controlled Substances Act. This striking contradiction bars physicians who serve veterans from pursuing medical cannabis certification. Likewise, veterans cannot possess cannabis while on VA property and can face penalties if caught holding.
Also, if a veteran has been incarcerated for drug use (including cannabis), they can be shut out from government benefit programs, such as applying for financial aid to attend college, or even from public housing programs. The oppressive and unnecessary criminalization of cannabis further exacerbates high rates of homelessness, hunger, and overall mental health among the country’s veteran population.
Apparently, jeopardizing your own life to serve your nation isn’t enough to keep you in the country if you aren’t quite a citizen yet, either. In March, US Army veteran and green card holder Miguel Perez Jr., who twice served in Afghanistan, was detained by US Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE). After the Mexican-born veteran, who had been living in the US for more than 30 years, attempted to retroactively gain citizenship, a previous drug charge (to which he pleaded guilty) was brought to the attention of law enforcement. Meanwhile, he suffered from PTSD and brain injuries following his service, so the drugs charge was likely related to his self-medication for those symptoms.
People who admit to consuming cannabis in the past can often be denied from serving in the military. However, for those entering military service today, specifically the US Army has been relaxing its restrictions on cannabis use, with the issuing of more than 500 waivers last year alone to people who want to enlist but have a record of past cannabis use.
But it’s not all happy days, as cannabis use is still not permitted, seeing as the military industry believes those in combat should never be under the influence. And when servicepeople return home, they will still face similar obstacles to veterans trying to access medical cannabis.