Veterans: Critical to the cannabis workforce, denied medicine

Jonathan Rose / Nov 07, 2022
hero-graphic-Veterans: Critical to the cannabis workforce, denied medicine
Photo Credit: Jessica Radanavong via Unsplash

Here's why U.S. military veterans are denied cannabis by their major healthcare provider

Election Day 2022 falls during National Veterans Awareness Week in the U.S., which culminates in Veterans Day — a national holiday that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs calls " A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good."

Can VA doctors prescribe cannabis?

Yet American veterans are being denied by their main healthcare provider an essential medicine: Cannabis.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says that veterans can talk to their doctors about their cannabis use without fear of repercussions, but that VA doctors can't prescribe cannabis as a treatment for many of the ailments that the plant is best known for treating. Many of those ailments just so happen to be the very same ones that haunt wartime or combat veterans: PTSD, pain management, sleeplessness, depression, and anxiety.

How many veterans use cannabis?

That's probably why cannabis use has skyrocketed among veterans: A recent VA report found that, "In 2014, 9% of Veterans in the U.S. reported using cannabis in the past year. In 2019-2020, the prevalence of past-6-month cannabis use among Veterans was 11.9%, and was over 20% among Veterans aged 18-44."

That number is about 14% in the general 18-44 population.

The VA report itself points to this increase as being the result of, among other things, the "diagnosis of mental health problems such as PTSD, anxiety disorders, mood disorders and other substance use disorders."

Eighteen veterans, on average, die by suicide, per the VA's own data, and many experts and politicians point to medical cannabis as a potential treatment that could help lower that number.

Why can't VA doctors prescribe cannabis?

The scheduling of Cannabis as a drug on par with LSD and heroin (which President Joe Biden has recently addressed), and a lack of federal studies are the primary reasons government officials point to as a reason to prevent VA doctors from recommending cannabis as a treatment.

The irony, of course, is that federal prohibition has meant that studies of the plant for positive uses have essentially been banned by the government, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Several pieces of federal legislation have been proposed by politicians on Capitol Hill that would open up studies, make cannabis available to veterans, and even legalize the plant, but most have either died or are sitting in committee.

How many veterans work in the cannabis industry?

The cannabis industry itself is very well aware of these issues, and several veteran-run organizations exist to advocate for the plant and its legalized use by veterans. Most retail stores offer discounts to military veterans.

In fact, more than half of America's veterans live in legal cannabis states now, according to Eric Goepel, the CEO of the Veterans Cannabis Coalition.

The percentage of veterans working in the cannabis industry has held steady at about 5%, according to Vangst Cannabis Industry Salary Guide survey data. We first asked the question in 2020, and our 2022 guide, which will be released in early 2023, will show similar results.

VOTE

So when you vote on Tuesday, keep veterans in mind along with your own personal feelings about cannabis. Cannabis is on the ballot in five states and several municipalities in 2022, and your vote could save a life.

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