A new study released by the nation's largest veterans organization found that a large majority of veterans and their caregivers want the federal government to legalize medical marijuana and conduct more research into the plant.
The study from the American Legion found that 82 percent of veterans and caregivers surveyed said they support legalizing medical marijuana at the federal level, and 92 percent said they support federal research into cannabis.
"I wouldn't say that I was surprised, I think it was validating," said Lou Celli, national director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation at the American Legion.
The survey found that legalization of medical cannabis is also a bipartisan issue, with 88 percent of self-identified conservatives saying they would support legalization and 90 percent of self-identified liberals agreeing.
Marine Corps veterans Josh Frey was prescribed dozens of prescription drugs from methadone to klonopin after he was injured in Fallujah Iraq in 2004. On Thursday, he told veterans and lawmakers at the capitol that smoking marijuana helped wean him off the drugs that turned him in to a zombie.
"Before medical marijuana, I would have been drooling on myself. Actually, I really don’t even know before marijuana, because I was such… it was such a crazy time in my life. It’s all a blur. After marijuana? I got a family, I remember, I’m doing things," Frey said in an interview.
Frey lives in Tampa, Fla. where medical marijuana is legal, but he says he worries about his brothers in arms who don't have access to the same treatment that has helped him.
"It really really hurts to know that something that helped me, one thing that can help me take away all these pills, and they wont, they don’t allow anything," Frey said.
Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states, but veterans seeking at treatment at VA hospitals do not have cannabis as an option.
Earlier this year, VA secretary David Shulkin told reporters at the White House that he was interested in looking in to how medical cannabis can help veterans coping with chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
According to the VA, 11 to 20 percent of post-9/11 veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD, along with about 15 percent of Vietnam War veterans.
Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have introduced bipartisan legislation in recent months to ease restrictions on medical marijuana research, but so far those bills haven't budged.
On Thursday, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) told reporters that the House Judiciary Committee would hold a hearing by the end of the year to examine his bill to resechedule marijuana.
"This is going to happen eventually," Celli said. "Eventually cannabis will be accepted as an alternative to other forms of medications and really the real question here is which administration is going to get the change to take credit for it?"
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