Law keeps medical marijuana out of vets’ reach

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Imagine living in fear of doing something that’s perfectly legal in Massachusetts.

This is the maddening “Catch-22” that our veterans face when they purchase cannabis at a medical marijuana dispensary to treat conditions like PTSD and chronic pain issues.

Our servicemen and women are looking over their shoulders, worried that they’ll lose their jobs, security clearances, GI Bill loan benefits, disability payments, Second Amendment rights and access to other medications if they publicly disclose their legal use of cannabis.

That’s because under federal law, which the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs is obligated to follow, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule One Controlled Substance — an illegal drug.

Even though marijuana is legal here in Massachusetts and in the majority of the United States, more than 9 million veterans who receive their health care directly from the federal government through the Veterans Health Administration are unable to access medical cannabis because most states require doctors to submit forms.

VHA doctors cannot complete these forms or recommend cannabis as a treatment option due to federal law.

Faced with this dilemma, local veterans are forced to choose between their mental and physical health and their other necessities and responsibilities.

That’s why my company, Curaleaf, has launched our nationwide initiative with the Veterans Cannabis Project.

The VCP is an organization that advocates for authorizing access to, providing protections for and requiring research into medical cannabis for veterans. This group strives to bring additional visibility to this important issue and help millions of veterans to have better access to high quality medicinal cannabis.

Additionally, we’re calling on Congress, the White House and the Department of Veterans Affairs to give veterans access to the cannabis they overwhelmingly want and deserve.

U.S. Air Force veteran Doug Distaso leads our efforts as executive director for the Veterans Cannabis Project.

Distaso served over two decades in the military and suffered traumatic brain injury along with several broken bones in a plane crash.

His doctors prescribed dangerous opioids and other prescriptions that only made his problems worse.

“As a veteran who lives the post-service struggle and was lucky enough to escape the combat cocktail of medications prescribed to me, I try to make those who are struggling more comfortable searching for help,” Distaso said. “I know that cannabis helps alleviate symptoms for many — me included — so let’s remove the stigma and recognize its uses. Our veterans deserve better.”

Our returning servicemen and women are facing an alarming crisis as the rate of suicide is at an all-time high in the veteran community.

According to the latest National Veteran Suicide Prevention annual report, 127 Massachusetts veterans committed suicide in 2016 and 2017 alone.

“We know medical marijuana helps in many cases. That is clear through the testimony we receive daily,” Distaso added. “We know veterans who are in pain, living with disabilities and those who are losing hope. Our mission is simple: to serve veterans and help them achieve full, legal access to medical cannabis as a treatment option.”

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