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Veterans and Medical Cannabis

Veterans Join Lawsuit To Reclassify Medical Cannabis

The federal reclassification of cannabis in the US just moved several steps closer to becoming a reality. Cannabis has been a Schedule 1 drug, listed on the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, for almost 50 years. Other drugs on the list include heroin, LSD, ecstasy and K2. They are all considered to be of no medical use and highly addictive. Several recent events may be instrumental in pressuring the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) into changing the classification of cannabis from Schedule 1 to a lesser classification or declassifying it altogether. These include the following:

  • The democrats now have a sizable majority in the House of Representatives as a result of the 2018 mid-term elections on November 6, 2018.
  • Two Republican Congressmen, who were staunch opponents of cannabis reform laws, will no longer be House members as of January, 2019. Pete Sessions of Texas, current Chair of the House Rules Committee, lost his bid for re-election. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, current Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, chose to retire rather than face a potential election defeat. As chairs of these two committees, they were able block legislation from ever getting out of committee and onto the floor for a House vote.
  • The forced resignation, the day after the mid-term elections, of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions who famously said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
  • The ongoing federal lawsuit led by 12 year old “Cannabis Refugee” Alexis Bortell, whose family was forced to move to Colorado from Texas in order to legally use CBD oils and tinctures to control her epileptic seizures.

Two US veterans, Jose Belen and Leo Bridgewater, have joined the lawsuit with Alexis Bortell along with 6 year old Jagger Cotte, who suffers from Leigh’s Disease, and former NFL player turned cannabis entrepreneur, Marvin Washington. Their lawsuit alleges that the Justice Department’s refusal to remove cannabis from the Schedule 1 list is “unconstitutional.”

Jose Belen has been using cannabis to control his PTSD symptoms since returning from his 2003 tour of duty in Iraq. Leo Bridgewater, an Iraq War veteran, chose to leave the Army rather than give up his medicinal cannabis usage. “I’ll tell you the truth, said Bridgewater, “If they let us smoke cannabis in the Army, I would still be in today. I would estimate that 75, maybe 80 percent of the guys in uniform feel the same way. They just can’t say it.” 

While passage of cannabis reform laws is looking very promising in the democratic-led House, the Republican-led Senate may still be problematic in securing enough votes to make changes to the federal cannabis laws. The current Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley of Iowa, is a staunch cannabis opponent. He has announced that he is stepping down from that committee to replace retiring Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. It is looking likely that Senator Lindsey Graham of SC will be taking over as head of the Judiciary Committee. Graham may be much more amenable to supporting cannabis reform laws.

Another potential roadblock to cannabis reform laws is the current Acting US Attorney General Matthew Whitaker who is no friend of cannabis. He handed down longer than usual sentences to non-violent offenders for cannabis possession when he was a US attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. However, it remains to be seen if he will even be nominated to be the next US AG as many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle feel his appointment was “unconstitutional.” He is mired in multiple scandals and has not been confirmed by the Senate which is required for a US Attorney General.

On the positive side, Attorney Lauren Rudick will be representing appeals by the plaintiffs, Bortell, Belen, Bridgewater, Cotte and Washington, in US District Court for the Southern District of NY on December 12, 2018. Their complaint was rejected last February against the Department of Justice (DOJ) by Judge Alvin Hellerstein. His rationale for his ruling was that the plaintiffs had not exhausted “all administrative remedies” and should have made their case to the DEA first. Attorney Rudick pointed out that doing so would have been futile since attempts to reschedule cannabis have been rejected repeatedly over the last decade. It is also important to note that it takes anywhere from seven to nine years for the DEA to decide on a rescheduling petition. She further mentioned that the plaintiffs need medical cannabis now and don’t have nine years to wait. For many, cannabis is saving their lives. If the judge accepts their appeal, the case will go to trial.

As more and more states legalize both medical and recreational cannabis, lawmakers are realizing that the federal cannabis laws must be in step with the will of the voters.

Source: kansas.com, New momentum in veterans’ fight for medical marijuana, December 2, 2018

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