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Veterans appeal to Greitens to legalize medical cannabis

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Veterans advocating for the legalization and safe regulation of medicinal cannabis visited the Capitol Tuesday hoping to catch the ear of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.

The group of about 10 veterans came from various branches – Marines, Army, National Guard – and all suffered from various ailments – brain tumors, pain, depression, post traumatic stress disorder – but they all believe that medical cannabis could possibly be a solution to treat them.

However, conclusive research and treatment options in the United States and Missouri remain elusive, namely because cannabis is still considered a Schedule I drug by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Missouri, unlike a growing number of states, has yet to make medical cannabis legal, though several legislators have filed bills to make that treatment a reality in recent years.

All of the citizen lobbyists lamented that something they believe contributes to their survival is illegal.

“Right now, each and every one of us that has served honorably, we are all criminals,” Joyce Galler, one of the activist veterans, said.

The group hoped to reach out to the governor because they believed, as a veteran, he would understand their plight and look out for them.

“He’s a former SEAL member, he’s all about veterans,” Joshua Lee, a member of the group, stated. “He pushes veteran causes wherever he goes. We need him to step up and be a leader on this issue.”

Lee, a disabled Missouri National Guard veteran, pulled out a 10-pound bag with nearly 10,000 smarties in it. Each one of the candies, he said, represented one pill he took each year for chronic pain and PTSD. Those pills, certified as safe by the FDA, the veterans argue can be just as dangerous as any other drug.

Such medications can have significant side effects, especially when taken in concert. Lee says he takes so many different prescriptions that he must undergo blood tests three times a week to ensure they don’t do permanent damage to his body. Another veteran said his extreme medication regimen eventually led to his liver failure, and that he was prescribed oxycodone and other opioid painkillers up to six times a day, even though it eventually did little to alleviate his pain.

Medical marijuana, the veterans argued, could have positive effects in treating some of their ailments, but a lack of research made that uncertain.

“We’re sitting here in a swamp because of, unfortunately, politics,” John Grady, another activist said. “We fall victim to politicians wanting to mandate things… If we keep letting politicians mandate things instead of letting true scientific research guide us in principled scientific investigation, we’ll never have the answer.”

At the very least, Lee says marijuana can provide symptom control and relief with fewer and/or far less dangerous side effects than something like a prescription opiate could. Other veterans added most veterans did not even smoke medical cannabis because that results in a weaker active ingredient as opposed to oils or edible versions of cannabis.

The group spoke to several legislators, including Reps. Jim Neely and Jean Evans, both of whom have legislation regarding medical cannabis, and were introduced to the House by Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch. Neely’s bill would legalize the prescription of medical cannabis to patients with certain debilitating illnesses, and Evans’ bill would expand the ability to prescribe CBD oil to general and family practitioners and physicians.

She said if more people had met the veterans as she had, they would likely be more open to the idea of expanding medical cannabis access.

“You’re talking about American patriots who now, in order to relieve their pain, they have to break the law with a substance that is less harmful than the drugs they’re being given by doctors,” Evans said. “They already sacrificed everything, turned their bodies over to the government to protect people like me and now… they need something they’re not allowed to have in order to lead a meaningful and productive life.”

As for the veterans, until a solution is found for better treatment, they will continue to share war stories, not about their service in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Vietnam, but about their experiences with drugs like lithium and tramadol and the side effects those pharmaceutical agents can cause. They want new methods to treat their ailments, and they so far have been willing to try them, despite the fact that medical cannabis is illegal in Missouri.

“We’re not asking for recreational, we don’t want stoners walking around downtown with a joint,” Lee said. “We’re saying there are people dying because they don’t have access to a medication that has shown no long term side effects anywhere near as dangerous as Tylenol.”