The American Legion took a position on medical marijuana for the first time last week, arguing that veterans ‘have a right to anything that may help them’. Faced with stark numbers of brain trauma and psychological distress cases among combat veterans, the nation’s largest active veteran’s organization has thrown its weight behind the growing movement to push for relaxing federal restrictions on marijuana.
The American Legion, the nation’s largest wartime veterans organization, took a position on medical marijuana for the first time last week. At its national convention, it passed a resolution calling on Congress to amend its laws to “at a minimum … recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value”.
Marijuana is currently classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule 1 drug, putting it alongside drugs such as heroin and cocaine. The designation, which the DEA reaffirmed last month, means that the federal government officially believes there is no “accepted medical use” for the drug.
“It’s a tool in a toolbox,” said William Detweiler, who serves as the chairman of the American Legion’s traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) committee and who is a past national commander of the organization. “We’re not advocating the use of marijuana or any other drugs,” but he said veterans “have a right to anything that may help them”.
The American Legion’s new policy platform comes amid greater medical understanding and scientific research in recent years on the causes and consequences of TBI and PTSD.
In the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the incidence of PTSD and TBI among veterans has rapidly increased, leading to a national crisis that has also coincided with alarming rates of depression and suicide.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 22% of combat casualties from the post-9/11 conflicts are brain injuries, compared to 12% for Vietnam veterans. It also estimates that between 60% and 80% of combat vets who have blast injuries may also have brain trauma.
A large and growing body of literature suggests that cannabis can be an effective medical treatment to alleviate the worst effects of PTSD. About two decades ago, scientists discovered the presence of an endocannabinoid system in the brain which responds to some 60 chemicals that are found in marijuana.