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Federal law complicates medical marijuana for veterans

Homes won't allow residents to use the plant

Some veterans may lose benefits with medical marijuana

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Nearly 70 percent of Missouri voters approved medical marijuana in November.

The Show-Me State became one of 33 that has legalized medical marijuana, but the plant is still illegal in every form on the federal level.

That puts states with marijuana allowances at odds with the U.S. government and it complicates the medical treatment for some of the very people medical marijuana was supposed to benefit – military veterans.

A disabled Air Force veteran, who wants to remain anonymous because marijuana is still illegal to use in any form in Missouri, says he currently uses it for medicinal purposes. He says his chronic pain treatment got out-of-hand.

“They increased my medicine again. One doctor called it a 'life-threatening dose,' I was on 360 oxycodone a month," the man said. "And then they give you all the supporting medicines that go along with that like one for sleep, one to keep you up, one for your mood. And so you end up with just a big grocery bag full of medicine every month."

A disabled U.S. Army veteran, who also wishes to remain anonymous, says she too got upside-down in her prescription drug treatments for multiple sclerosis. She said, “I was taking a lot. I was taking the medication for the MS, which was an injection, and I had reactions (to the injection). I was taking in one day about 30 pills, and an injection. And I just I said I can't do this anymore."

Both veterans say they use marijuana medicinally and that it has helped alleviate their many symptoms and improved their quality of life.

A study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs in 2014 showed patients with post-traumatic stress disorder experienced a 75 percent decrease in their symptoms using medical marijuana. The study did say further studies are needed and there was also a danger of addiction or misuse with self-medicating patients.

Voters approved Amendment 2 with the promise of tax revenue from marijuana sales benefiting veterans’ services. But, veterans who live in any of the state’s seven veterans' nursing centers, including the one in Mexico, will not be allowed to medicate with marijuana.

Some say it seems paradoxical that some veterans cannot take advantage of a program designed for their benefit. 

The STATES Act, Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States, is a bipartisan bill that would effectively end the federal government’s prohibition of medical marijuana and leave the issue up to individual states.

As far as Missouri's federal delegation on their support of the STATES Act, Sen. Roy Blunt’s office says he hasn’t read the bill, and Kelli Ford from Sen. Josh Hawley’s office sent ABC 17 News this statement:

“Senator Hawley respects the will of the voters and is supportive of medical marijuana so long as there are sufficient protections to limit its use to medicinal purposes. Senator Hawley does not support the recreational use of marijuana.”

Republican representatives Vicky Hartzler and Blaine Luetkemeyer didn’t respond to a request for a comment on their positions.

The Missouri Veterans Commission says it's bound by federal restrictions and will not allow veterans to medicate with marijuana. The commission says the federal government considers marijuana a Schedule I controlled substance.

The commission said in an email to ABC 17 News, “Unless there is a change in Federal law, our Veterans homes may not permit the use of medical marijuana as it would be considered a drug offense and would prevent us from receiving the VA per diem grants.”

ABC 17 News also worked to learn if a privately-run veteran’s assistance center will allow residents to medicate with marijuana. Welcome Home in Columbia said, “Welcome Home does not have a response or position on this issue at this time.”

Both disabled vets in this report say it should be left up to the states and say the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs should allow the VA to be able to recommend and even prescribe medical marijuana.

Both veterans are also gun owners. They say they may decide not to apply for a medical marijuana certificate from the state, because they said it would interfere with their Second Amendment rights.

 

Regardless of its pending legality, firearms dealers will still abide by federal rules and deny gun sales to anyone with a medical cannabis card.

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