After Matthew Hahns retired from the Navy in 2010, he never thought he’d be dealing with medical marijuana as an adult.
But in January, the sailor filed a federal lawsuit against the government, arguing that smoking marijuana should be covered by medical benefits programs. The drug is currently banned by federal law because of “the significant public health risks that occur when smoked marijuana is used.”
But the American Legion, which represents more than 3 million veterans, supports legalization of marijuana in states where it is legal, noting that military veterans have been relying on marijuana for decades to treat pain, anxiety and depression.
“As veterans, it is our responsibility to speak up for the many veterans who often don’t have the knowledge or tools to advocate for our best interests in Congress,” Christopher Harper, the American Legion’s top lawyer, said in an interview. The group’s ranks include close to one-third of all marijuana users, according to a 2016 Rand Corp. study.
Hahns’ battle is one of hundreds being waged in the nation’s capital every day, as veterans learn to navigate the system and other veterans lobby to ease restrictions. Lawmakers could make big policy shifts this year on two fronts: a provision in the health care law and changing federal law.
“I was reading this and thinking, ‘This is exactly what our veterans need right now,’ ” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., a chief author of the Affordable Care Act, who supports marijuana’s use.
It’s uncertain whether a provision in the health care law that lets Medicare, the government’s health insurance for the elderly, cover marijuana services will be repealed, as Republicans plan. But Blumenauer predicts that Republicans — who last year blocked efforts to loosen restrictions on CBD oil, a compound that has benefits for epilepsy and other conditions — will add language to the bill protecting cannabis use.
Trump’s views are unclear. Although he said in a 2011 interview that he felt “badly” for veterans who might end up addicted to marijuana, he has offered no further hints about his views on legalized drugs, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
When he initially launched his Democratic bid for president in 2016, Hillary Clinton expressed support for marijuana legalization. And she’s typically voted against legislation to restrict it, even once resisting a longtime Republican strategy of peppering bills with marijuana language.