Connect with us


Veteran Groups Urge Justice Dept to Act Quickly on Cannabis Scheduling Decision



Six months ago, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended that cannabis be moved from a Schedule I controlled substance to Schedule III. Some legislators and advocates have even called for cannabis to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act altogether.

As the ongoing schedule change for cannabis looms, with a decision from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) likely to come soon, the pressure on the Biden administration to ease federal restrictions on cannabis is increasing. The latest group to call for a shift? Veterans—namely several of the country’s largest veterans groups.

The veterans groups—including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, AMVETS, American GI Forum, the American Legion, Blinded Veterans Association and the Minority Veterans of America—urged the Justice Department, which oversees the DEA, to quickly take action on the move in a letter first obtained by NBC News.

“The men and women who served in the U.S. Armed Forces often face difficult physical and mental challenges upon returning home,” the groups wrote. “As such, we hope that in treating the wounds of war—both visible and invisible—that our servicemembers and veterans would have access to the widest array of possible treatments.”

The HHS directive came after President Joe Biden instructed the department to conduct a review on the current classification of cannabis. Schedule I substances are defined as having no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, MDMA and peyote. Schedule III substances have “moderate potential for abuse,” less than those on Schedules I and II, and have a currently accepted medical use in the U.S.

There is also a push to remove cannabis from the CSA entirely, which would essentially create a more finite path toward federal legalization as this would remove criminal penalties surrounding cannabis. Notably, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and others recently wrote a letter of their own urging the DEA and Biden administration to deschedule the drug.

Even though a majority of states throughout the U.S. have legalized medicinal cannabis, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) does not offer it as treatment for veterans, nor does it pay for medical cannabis prescriptions. In the letter, the groups referenced that they would like that option and cited an American Legion survey, finding that 82% of veteran respondents agree they would like medical cannabis as a federally legal treatment option.

Without a DEA ruling, the groups said that many veterans remain uncomfortable discussing their use of cannabis with VA providers “due to fear of retribution.”

“We understand that the administrative scheduling process involves several steps, but the sooner the DEA moves forward with a reclassification of cannabis, the sooner it could potentially be integrated into the [Veterans Health Administration]—our nation’s largest healthcare system,” the groups wrote.

It’s hard to ignore the level of momentum cannabis reform has seized over the last several years. Today, 38 states have legal medicinal cannabis programs and 24 have legalized cannabis for recreational use. A Gallup poll from October 2023 also found that 70% of U.S. adults believe that cannabis should be legal.

Cannabis access is especially relevant for veterans, who broadly agree that the plant can be used to treat a variety of medical conditions according to recent polling. A separate 2023 poll also found that an estimated one in 10 U.S. military veterans report having consumed cannabis in the past year while another survey found that 75% of military veterans would consider using cannabis or cannabinoid products as a treatment option if they were available.