Is weed okay for veterans? The drug is often called a “game changer” among California’s veteran population, thanks to the role it plays in post-traumatic stress disorder treatment. But, like any nascent social movement, marijuana usage among veterans isn’t without its detractors. Veteran groups have organized in an attempt to draw attention to the dangers of marijuana use — ranging from road crashes to addiction and unintentional overdoses — and in so doing have made this growing army of warriors a potential political target.
In California, the inter-warring interests of legalization and prohibitionist groups — weed edibles, dispensary growth, and public health as well as government oversight and enforcement, to name a few — have complicated efforts to establish the level of oversight that an emerging industry often demands.
Marin County voters, for example, are considering Question 7, which would make it legal for adults to grow, transport, and sell marijuana but give the county, state, and federal governments wide power to regulate its distribution. Question 7 has vocal opponents including the American Legion and the Vietnam Veterans of America, but also a notable proponent, the California National Guard. Its director of substance abuse programs, Capt. Donald Cooper, has testified to the Northern California Assembly that marijuana is a crucial support for veterans. He told lawmakers that the enlistment rate among veterans increased by 13 percent in 2017 due to marijuana use.
Veterans face the type of resentment that is likely to intensify as marijuana legalization spreads. Minus any major anti-marijuana laws, a divided nation could be equally divided by any cannabis policies that are in place, such as a federal ban and (in some states) taxes that are disproportionately high. Government is an ever-present factor in veterans’ lives. It can make more of one the government’s subjects and less of another — specifically a chosen one — particularly if the other is on active duty. More than a million veterans live in states that have banned marijuana, and another 17 million take it every year. Many live in states that allow only marijuana for medical use.
Getting rid of federal prohibition of marijuana would provide a new layer of support for the marijuana movement and help shield them from government influence. With a new way of controlling the substance, veterans could spend less time fighting over a broken system and more time focusing on ending a war that has taken a toll on them and their families.