A coalition of military veterans organizations is pushing President Joe Biden to ensure that the ongoing administrative review into marijuana’s scheduling status is completed in a “timely manner” and also take steps to “counter” misinformation while pursuing broader reform.
In a letter sent to the president last week, multiple veterans-focused groups expressed appreciation for his directive initiating the marijuana review last year, which led the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to recommend that cannabis be moved from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
“This process represents a significant opportunity for our nation to lead with science over fear, and begin righting the wrongs of prohibition,” the groups, which include Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, wrote. “The actions taken by your administration and HHS have been historic, and lay the groundwork for the significant work ahead, including the need to ensure that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) expeditiously accepts the scientific and medically founded recommendation.”
DEA is currently completing its part of the review before making a final determination. While the scientific findings of HHS are binding, the law enforcement agency is not required to abide by the Schedule III rescheduling recommendation.
“As representatives of our nation’s Veterans communities, these issues of safe access and research could not be more important,” the letter says. “The individuals who work every day to protect our great nation deserve every ounce of support as they tackle the physical and psychological impacts of their service as they return from active duty.”
The groups included anecdotes from members in the letter, detailing how cannabis has helped them transition away from certain pharmaceuticals and improved symptoms of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
“While we are seeing incredible success through access to cannabis, these positive outcomes are limited by the stigma associated with admitting use and the fear associated with lost opportunities as a result of federal restrictions on cannabis,” the coalition said.
“We understand that misinformation, driven by fear and misunderstanding, is common when it comes to cannabis,” they continued. “And we ask that your administration work diligently to counter this misinformation, and to listen when your Veterans say that something is not only important, it’s potentially life saving.”
The letter also talks about the benefits of going beyond simple rescheduling by moving to federally legalize marijuana. Doing so would improve military readiness by addressing cannabis-related recruitment issues and broadly resolve state and military policy conflicts, they said.
“As a community, we see the reclassification of cannabis as a first step in evolving our national understanding of a plant that thousands of veterans rely upon for chronic pain and other serious service-related ailments,” they said. “There is more progress to be made post-rescheduling and we will look to you, Mr President, to continue supporting and prioritizing access to the benefits of plant-based medicine for all of our active duty and Veterans communities.”
The letter contains two specific asks for the president: 1) to ensure that the scheduling review process “is concluded in a timely manner” and 2) to see to it that Congress “builds on this historic progress to ensure our Veterans communities are not left behind.”
“While the significance of cannabis rescheduling is unique to each community, as Veterans, reclassifying cannabis means a better future for those who chose to serve our country,” they said. “To us, it means access to life-changing medicine, to economic opportunity, to healthy futures—free of opioids, and to wellness without the weight and stigma of unscientific restrictions.”
“Thank you Mr President for initiating this process. We look to your leadership in ensuring this action is just the beginning—laying the groundwork for a better tomorrow,” the letter concludes. “The undersigned organizations are with you in the fight for safe access, scientific research, and a better future for our Veterans communities.”
Signatories on the letter include Hemp for Victory, Balanced Veterans Network (BVN), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Realm of Caring, Hero Grown, Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance and Texas Veterans for Medical Cannabis.
The veterans groups aren’t the only ones proactively pushing for administrative support amid the ongoing scheduling review.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) recently called on DEA to act with “great urgency” to reschedule marijuana in line with a recommendation from HHS, for example.
A coalition of 31 bipartisan House lawmakers sent a letter the DEA administrator in October, urging her to take into account congressional and state marijuana legalization efforts as the agency carries out its scheduling review. They also criticized the limitations of simple rescheduling as they push for complete a complete removal of marijuana from the CSA.
Those letters serve as a counterbalances to other recent messages DEA has received from congressional opponents of reform and former DEA and White House drug czars who argue that even moving marijuana to Schedule III would go too far.
Fourteen Republican congressional lawmakers recently urged DEA to “reject” the top federal health agency’s recommendation to reschedule marijuana and instead keep it in the most restrictive category under the CSA.
Two GOP senators, including the lead Republican sponsor of a marijuana banking bill that cleared a key committee in September, have also recently filed legislation to prevent federal agencies from rescheduling cannabis without tacit approval from Congress.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) separately submitted an amendment for a spending bill that would prevent the Justice Department from using federal funds to reschedule or deschedule marijuana.
Advocates and lawmakers who support cannabis reform, meanwhile, marked the one-year anniversary of Biden’s mass marijuana pardon and scheduling directive by calling on him to do more—including by expanding the scope of relief that his pardon had and by expressly supporting federal legalization.
What’s also unclear is the timeline for when DEA will complete its cannabis review. For what it’s worth, however, a former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official says he’d be “shocked” if DEA doesn’t reschedule marijuana by next year’s presidential election.
Read the veterans groups’ letter to Biden on the marijuana scheduling review below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.