IAVA Pushing For Reclassification of Marijuana
Reclassification of Marijuana for PTSD Treatment Pushed by Veteran Service Organization, IAVA
The organization IAVA is bringing focus to the positive uses of marijuana, specifically in the potential therapeutic treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In early October of last year, they refiled an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit urging the challenging of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) restrictive classification of cannabis.
Who Is IAVA?
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA, is a nonprofit founded in 2004 by activist and Iraq war veteran Paul Rieckhoff, that has a mission to “connect, unite, and empower post-9/11 veterans.” TIME Magazine referred to the IAVA as “the most important organization representing the new generation of vets.” They have established themselves “as a force to be reckoned with in Washington,” through their inaugural program called “Storm the Hill,” where veterans share their stories and sit down with policy matters to discuss the issues that matter most. Since then, IAVA has firmly cemented itself as a changemaker and mouthpiece for U.S. veterans.
Marijuana’s Reputation Has Changed Over The Years
Marijuana/Cannabis has a long history with a conflicting reputation. In the U.S., marijuana was used as a treatment for a number of things starting in the 1850s, but prohibition emerged in the early 1900s, with criminalization following thereafter. In the mid-1970s, some states began decreasing the severity of punishment, but it wasn’t until medical cannabis made a public reappearance in the late 1990s that states began to consider legalization of it for specific purposes. Colorado and Washington were the first states to pass recreation legalization of marijuana in 2012. As of November 2020, the country is still divided, with 15 states (plus D.C.) having full legalization of medical and recreational marijuana, 6 states that have maintained laws that view any and all use of marijuana as fully illegal, and the other states with varying laws on legality and criminalization of use. (View this map for specifics.)
Within the past few days, there have even been reports that the NBA will no longer test for marijuana use in players and that the House of Representatives is pushing through a bill to federally decriminalize marijuana altogether. As of now, for those who are subject to the UCMJ – and as long as marijuana remains on the federal schedule of controlled substances – possession or use is still a prosecutable offense.
VA’s Stance on Medical Marijuana
Where does that leave the VA in all of this? According to their website, “As long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as Schedule I, VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist Veterans to obtain it.” VA Clinicians may not recommend or prescribe medical marijuana, nor may they sign paperwork/forms for veterans to be able to participate in state-approved medical marijuana programs. The VA does declare that while they encourage veterans to disclose marijuana use (which will be put in medical reports by providers), this will not impact the ability of veterans to continue to receive benefits and care through the VA.
Promoting Marijuana For Treatment Of PTSD
IAVA has a history of supporting and promoting medical marijuana, specifically for the treatment of PTSD and prevention of veteran suicide. Their website states, “In our latest member survey, over 80% of IAVA members supported legalization for medical use. Almost 90% supported researching cannabis for medicinal purposes.” With this amicus brief, and continual open-door communication with legislators, IAVA has been a spearhead in the effort to change federal regulations, modernize the VA, and promote necessary alternative therapies for veterans. Their recommendations for the 116th Congress are:
- Research Cannabis as a Treatment Option
- Destigmatize the Use of Medical Cannabis
- Drive the National Conversation on Cannabis to Underscore the Need for Bipartisan, Data-based, Common Sense Solutions
- Ensure Veterans Are Not Punished for Using Medical Cannabis Where Legal
Travis Horr, director of government affairs for IAVA, made it known that due to the overwhelming response of IAVA members and veterans everywhere, “It is crucial to remove cannabis as a schedule I drug, to allow this research to be done and potentially provide much-needed relief for veterans.” The IAVA further elaborated that “Without such clinical studies, veterans who live in states where medical marijuana is not available as a treatment for PTSD cannot obtain the treatment, and veterans who can obtain the treatment in states where it is legal do so at their own personal expense, without coordination with their VA medical teams, and without any scientific evidence to establish the promise of the efficacy and safety of the treatment.”
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