By the Veterans Cannabis Coalition
On January 3rd, 2019 the 116th Congress of the United States of America was sworn in, and 535 Representatives and Senators assumed their offices. They will represent more than 320 million Americans who are surrounded by political instability, a massive drug overdose epidemic, and a fluctuating economy. They will also represent 220 million people in 33 states where cannabis is legalized for adult or medicinal use. The Pew Research Center has conducted a tracking poll on support for cannabis legalization since 1969, when only 12% of Americans were in favor. Today backing for legalization tops 62%, with more than nine-in-ten people approving medicinal cannabis access.
That’s where we are as a country—millions upon millions of people across age, gender, ethnicity, party, region, faith, and class all wanting the same thing: an end to cannabis prohibition. We all grew up under 80 years of reefer madness propaganda that shaped the way we look at cannabis, but when confronted with education by patients and advocates and tempered by personal experience we grew to collectively recognize the lie we were all sold. Then we acted, and we changed the laws. But our collective federal representation has failed to even approve medical cannabis research, let alone tackle decriminalization and legalization. Based on current political trends, it does not look like the next Congress will make getting a cannabis reform bill to the President’s desk a priority.
We created prohibition by accepting the corrupt agendas of those elected and appointed to serve the public good. Despite thousands of years of human experience with cannabis, we allowed a plant to be criminalized and to be used as tool for control and punishment against millions of our fellow citizens for decades. But we have shown we are capable of acknowledging the truth about the trivial risks and massive benefits that cannabis legalization represents. Then we collectively made the effort to change hundreds of laws over decades in every state, through the work of activists representing cancer and HIV/AIDS patients, children with epilepsy, and veterans with PTSD.
Our coalition has been shaped by 17 years of the forever war on terror abroad and untreated mental and physical injuries at home. Our challenges—post traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, homelessness—are not unique to veterans, nor are the suicides and fatal overdoses. It is the combination and rate of these conditions and events that distinguishes our community, but it simply brightly reflects the lived reality of millions of people everywhere. Our experiences with cannabis and treating complex issues should be a guide.
We enter this new Congress with the first real chance to enact federal cannabis reform in the history of prohibition. In cannabis legalization there is the potential to make an immediate positive impact in the lives of every person in the country. Decriminalization, descheduling, extensive research, restorative justice, and medical adoption all promise to improve everything from public health to employment. More than anything, it rights a wrong that has enriched and empowered a few at the cost of life and liberty for a nearly incalculable number of people.
We remake the world every day. Today and tomorrow and every day after is another opportunity to do something to create the kind of society you want to live in—do we want a world where a person is imprisoned for decades for cannabis possession or one where we people have access to a host of effective medicines capable of saving lives? The pathway to retaking our power and ensuring that our representatives are serving the interests of the public is as simple as it is frustrating. Write, e-mail, call, and meet with your elected representatives and their staff at every level and express why you support legalization or medical access. Support others who are advocating for just and equitable laws that recognize the need to research, reform, and restore. Help those who are educating and counseling and doing the day-in, day-out critical work of providing for those who cannot afford but rely on medicinal cannabis.
In the coming weeks we hope to chronicle the efforts of our coalition of veterans and allies as we build a campaign to pass cannabis reform legislation in the 116th Congress. We hope that this will provide some insight into an often frustrating and sometimes demoralizing process that is still necessary to navigate if we ever hope to make lasting change. We can see the end of cannabis prohibition and understand what must be done to achieve that future. Millions of us will be a part of it: educating family, presenting in front of colleagues, or testifying before Congress. We are ready to do our part, and we invite everyone who cares about science or equal justice or a healthy society to join us.
Eric Goepel is the founder and CEO of the Veterans Cannabis Coalition and an Army veteran of the Iraq War. Bill Ferguson is the co-founder of the Veterans Cannabis Coalition and an Army veteran of the Iraq War.