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Poll: Marijuana research widely supported among veterans

Army veteran Boone Cutler tells of his negative experiences taking a huge cocktail of prescribed medications that nearly drove him to suicide. Cutler was one of three marijuana advocates who spoke Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, during a briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 2, 2017

WASHINGTON — Most veteran households, regardless of state, age or political affiliation, support researching and legalizing medical marijuana, according to a poll commissioned by the American Legion released Thursday.

The Legion, which recently joined the fight for marijuana research, hired Five Corners Strategies to conduct an automated phone poll of veteran households from Oct. 8 to Oct. 10. It included a sample of 513 veterans and 289 family members across 39 states.

The poll, with a margin of error of 3.45 percentage points, found 92 percent of veterans support research into medical cannabis as well as 93 percent of veteran caregivers.

That’s higher than the public’s support of medical marijuana. According to a CBS News poll from April, 88 percent of Americans support medical marijuana use.

“Ninety-two percent of veterans support it. That’s a landslide,” said Louis Celli, a director at the Legion. “We owe it to them to do the research.”

One in five veterans use marijuana to alleviate symptoms of a physical or a mental medical condition, the poll found. More than 80 percent of veterans and their family caregivers want to see marijuana made a federally legal medical treatment.

Veterans included in the study live in states where medical marijuana is legal and states where it isn’t.

Support for medical marijuana transcends politics, the Legion said.

Of the households that identified as politically conservative, 88 percent supported federally legalized medical marijuana. Politically liberal households were slightly more supportive, at 90 percent.

“One of the reasons we did this is to prove to lawmakers this is a politically safe topic,” Celli said. “It’s no longer ‘refer madness.’ It’s legitimate science of the 21st century.”

Since May, the American Legion has strongly advocated for more research into medical marijuana. At its national convention in August, the organization adopted a resolution urging the VA to allow doctors to discuss and recommend medical marijuana in states where it’s legal. That’s in addition to a resolution that the group passed the previous year asking for marijuana to be removed from the list of Schedule I drugs, which include heroin, LSD, ecstasy and others designated as having no medical use.

The Legion has been supportive of research in Phoenix, Ariz., that is the first federally approved study of marijuana’s effects on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Last week, a group of House Democrats wrote a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin urging him to initiate marijuana research at the VA. The letter marked the first instance leadership of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has focused on marijuana research, staffers for Democrats on the committee said.

The Democrats asked Shulkin to respond by Nov. 14. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said they have yet to receive a response.

“It’s still early,” he said. “I’m very hopeful because I’ve watched the secretary always act in the manner of what’s best for vets. We have seen bold, unilateral decisions come out of this secretary, so we think that will bode well on an issue like this.”

If Shulkin doesn’t consider medical marijuana research, the group of Democrats plan to try to garner bipartisan support for legislation supporting it. Walz said the American Legion brought “weight and credibility” to the conversation.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill announcing the poll results, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., spoke in favor of marijuana research. He’s behind legislation to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs. He compared some of his fellow Republicans to “ostriches with their heads in the sand” on issues concerning medical marijuana.

“The administration hasn’t been supportive, and they haven’t been taking this seriously,” Celli said. “So, it’s time to look at legislative options.”

Two combat veterans and a deceased veteran’s mother spoke Thursday at the news conference and appealed to lawmakers that marijuana could be an alternative to addictive opioids, which they called a “combat cocktail.”

Josh Frey, a Marine Corps veteran, said he used marijuana to get off opioids

“I was numb. I couldn’t do anything,” he said. “With medical marijuana, I’m starting to feel like me. I don’t know what’s going to come of this today, but I know we’re not going anywhere.”

wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling

The American Legion's Executive Director Verna Jones, left, and the group's National Director of Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Louis Celli, center, listen as a military veteran tells how he was helped by using marijuana.
CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

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