WASHINGTON – Veterans tend to be an older, more conservative group, but that doesn’t stop them from advocating for a radical change in direction from the nation’s outdated policies on marijuana.
The American Legion represents many conservative veterans, but that doesn’t stop it from taking progressive positions on certain key issues.
A survey released by the American Legion, the nation’s largest wartime veterans’ service organization, indicates near-unanimous support among veterans for research on medical marijuana, with an overwhelming majority supporting legalization of the drug for medical purposes.
The Legion adopted a resolution last year calling on the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana from its current illicit status to a category “that, at a minimum, will recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value.” The resolution also called on the DEA “to license privately funded medical marijuana production operations.”
The Legion made it clear, however, that its support of marijuana ends where fun begins.
“It is very important to note that The American Legion is NOT advocating for recreational use of marijuana,” its statement said.
This is one of several progressive moves for an organization that represents voters who largely voted for President Donald Trump, according to exit polls.
Last month, the Legion urged Trump to veto Republican legislation overturning a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule prohibiting financial firms from imposing arbitration on consumers and barring class-action lawsuits.
When Trump moved to ban transgender people from the military, the Legion rebuffed him, saying: “Any requirement that disqualifies an able-bodied person from serving in our armed forces should be based solely upon its proven adverse effect on readiness, and nothing else. . . . Should that standard become questionable, The American Legion relies on the judgment of the senior leadership of the military” and not, notably, the president.
After the August white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, the Legion said it considers that those who display the Confederate flag are “by very definition anti-American,” because the Confederates waged war against the United States.
By the way, the Legion allowed women members from its beginning in 1919, not a common practice then, according to Joseph M. Plenzler, the organization’s spokesman. They could vote for the organization’s national commander before they could vote for the president of the nation.
Regarding medical marijuana, the key finding from the survey of 802 people, 513 veterans and 289 of their caregivers is that 9 in 10 favor medical research on it and four-fifths support legalizing medical marijuana.
“Support for medical cannabis, and research on medical cannabis is high across veterans and caregivers, all age ranges, gender, political leanings and geography,” said a memorandum from Five Corners Strategies, which conducted the survey for the Legion.
But two important points: The survey was commissioned by an organization that supports the research, and the survey has limitations. The most important limitations are that the sample was limited to a list of landline phones, a method which excludes veterans in wireless-only households as well those in which a veteran household was incorrectly identified on the list. Also, the survey recruited respondents using automated recorded voice. That has the benefit of eliminating human bias in those asking survey questions. But it achieves lower cooperation rates than live interviewers.
There is broad support for medical cannabis across various categories, according to the survey:
Geography: “The support for research and legalization is spread across the country, in states where medical cannabis is currently legal and in states where it is not.”
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Political orientation: Among veterans and caregivers federally legalized medical marijuana is supported by about 9 in 10 self-identified liberals, almost as many conservatives and 7 in 10 independents.
Age: While support for medical cannabis research and legalization drops the older veterans and their caregivers become, it remains strong even among senior citizens. Among those 60 and older, more than three-quarters favored medical marijuana. All in the 18 to 30 age group agreed.
It’s worth noting that 60 percent of those surveyed were 60 or older. That’s one reason for the finding that “the majority of veterans surveyed that are using cannabis are over the age of 60,” according to the memo.
“It is also clear from the survey that veterans are accessing cannabis to assist them in states with and without medical marijuana programs,” Five Corners added.
Veterans and their caregivers are not alone in favoring a more sensible approach to medical marijuana. A Yahoo News/Marist poll found 84 percent supported it in March, including majorities of Americans of all ages. The lowest level was 65 percent among those ages 69 and older.
The Legion is making progress in its quest to change Uncle Sam’s old ways. Last week, all 10 Democrats on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs urged VA to research the impact of medical marijuana on chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans.
So far, however, the Department of Veterans Affairs has not changed its policy. VA Secretary David Shulkin, however, has indicated a willingness to examine medical marijuana when federal law allows.
“There may be some evidence that this (medical marijuana) is beginning to be helpful,” Shulkin said when asked about it in May, the last time he commented on it. “And we’re interested in looking at that and learning from that. But until the time that federal law changes, we are not able to be able to prescribe medical marijuana for conditions that may be helpful.”
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