Veterans Dump Pill Bottles at the White House in Protest


On a day when Americans across the nation celebrate the work and sacrifices of military service members, dozens of veterans chose to protest for medical marijuana access by dumping prescription pill bottles at the White House. While progress is being made federally for veterans’ access to medical cannabis, advances are moving too slowly for too many veterans. The occurrence of suicides and prescription pill addiction rates for military veterans are a national tragedy and embarrassment.

MSN reports:

The veterans and protesters — affiliated with various veteran and marijuana advocacy organizations — argued that Veterans Affairs hospitals are over-medicating veterans, prescribing them a large number of psychoactive medications to treat PTSD.  They marched from McPherson Square to the Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters, then to the White House, some smoking joints along the way, which is illegal in D.C.

VA health-care providers can’t talk to their patients about medical marijuana options, even in states where there are legal medical marijuana programs. A bill in Congress, the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, would allow doctors to provide recommendations about participating in such state programs.

“There’s something seriously wrong going on. It’s disgusting,” said Jose Martinez, 27, a triple amputee who stepped on a bomb while serving in Afghanistan in 2012. Martinez, who lives in California and works with the Weed for Warriors Project, said he was prescribed a cocktail of pills and had a debilitating pain pill addiction.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) touts the fact that military personnel use illegal drugs less often than civilian counterparts, noting that random drug tests and harsh consequences discourage illicit use. Unfortunately, random drug tests usually only catch people using cannabis as inactive THC metabolites can stay on one’s system for a month after use, while most evidence of drugs is out of the system within a few days. NIDA then mentions that opioid prescription drug abuse is higher among the civilian population, likely because of the wide availability of the drugs:

According to the 2008 Department of Defense (DoD) Survey of Health Related Behaviors among Active Duty Military Personnel, just 2.3 percent of military personnel were past-month users of an illicit drug, compared with 12 percent of civilians. Among those age 18­–25 (who are most likely to use drugs), the rate among military personnel was 3.9 percent, compared with 17.2 percent among civilians.

A policy of zero tolerance for drug use among DoD personnel is likely one reason why illicit drug use has remained at a low level in the military for 2 decades. The policy was instituted in 1982 and is currently enforced by frequent random drug testing; service members face dishonorable discharge and even criminal prosecution for a positive drug test.

However, in spite of the low level of illicit drug use, abuse of prescription drugs is higher among service members than among civilians and is on the increase. In 2008, 11 percent of service members reported misusing prescription drugs, up from 2 percent in 2002 and 4 percent in 2005. Most of the prescription drugs misused by service members are opioid pain medications.

The greater availability of these medications and increases in prescriptions for them may contribute to their growing misuse by service members. Pain reliever prescriptions written by military physicians quadrupled between 2001 and 2009—to almost 3.8 million. Combat-related injuries and the strains from carrying heavy equipment during multiple deployments likely play a role in this trend.

It is simply a disgrace that politicians, policy makers, and frankly, everyday citizens claim to support the troops, but then don’t support their ability to utilize a medicine under the advisement of their doctor that can help alleviate their pain and suffering. As the protesters symbolic protest notes, doctors are pushing pills upon service members, with potentially fatal consequences, when there is a much safer option that can help prevent addiction and, potentially, even suicides. It was great that the Senate passed an amendment allowing VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis in states where the substance is legal, but that doesn’t go far enough for our military veterans, or for anyone in this country. Those that sacrifice for our freedom, regardless of the state they may reside in should be able to utilize medical cannabis legally.

Anthony Johnson

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign. As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state. Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients. He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm. His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.