Pubdate: Tue, 18 Sep 2018
Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2018 Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Author: Billy Cox


Removing marijuana's federal schedule 1 status is a campaign issue in
the 16th Congressional District race.

SARASOTA -- Candidates for the District 16 congressional race are
staking out divergent positions on the question of whether marijuana
should be removed from Schedule 1 status to afford military veterans
another potentially potent option for dealing with PTSD and traumatic
brain injuries, something explored recently by the Herald-Tribune and
supported by a growing field of veterans and national veterans
organizations in the face of an epidemic of military suicides.

The Herald-Tribune report, "Warriors Rise Up," addressed the suicide 
phenomenon that has claimed the lives of more than 75,000 veterans and 
uniformed military personnel from 2005 to 2015, according to a 
Department of Veterans Affairs study released in June.

Survivors of war in Afghanistan and Iraq shared horrific tales of
addiction to VA-dispensed painkillers. Some spoke of being reduced in
rank or drummed out of the military for seeking pain relief from
cannabis. They insist marijuana is far less dangerous and often more
effective than prescription "combat cocktails," some of which can 
trigger suicidal ideation. All who participated in the story
were exasperated by the categorization of marijuana as a Schedule 1
drug with no medicinal value. In demanding legal access, they want the
plant descheduled altogether.

Democrat David Shapiro, the Siesta Key attorney running against
incumbent Rep. Vern Buchanan, favors removing marijuana's Schedule 1
status, which equates the plant with heroin and as something more
dangerous than Schedule II cocaine. Buchanan says more research into
medical marijuana is warranted, and he does not support changing
cannabis' status.

But Buchanan's office said his approach is appropriate and that he has
advocated other actions to help veterans while studies are done.

"We support the position taken by Drug Free Manatee that more
research is warranted," Buchanan's spokeswoman Sally Dionne said in
statement to the Herald-Tribune. "In the meantime, Vern sponsored
legislation to promote legal alternatives to opioids, greater research
and prevention efforts, expanded access to treatment for those in
recovery and better screening to catch illegal drugs before they enter
the country.

Last year, the National Academy of Sciences announced that marijuana's
Schedule 1 label is actually crippling scientific research.

In November, the American Legion, the nation's oldest veterans service
organization with 2.2 million members, formally urged Congress to
deschedule marijuana in order to expedite that research. VA physicians
are prohibited from giving cannabis to veterans, even though the U.S.
Drug Enforcement Agency's website reports no deaths attributable to

He eventually began hearing veterans talk about how cannabis relieved
pain and nausea. At the Herald-Tribune's Hot Topics conversation in
Sarasota two weeks ago, Shapiro listened to Fort Lauderdale's Janine
Lutz describe how her son Johnny was prescribed a dangerous
benzodiazepine that the VA's own website warned against administering.
Diagnosed with PTSD, the former Marine who saw action in Afghanistan
and Iraq took his life in 2013 at age 24. Lutz sued the VA for
wrongful death and was awarded a cash settlement.

"We've got to get (cannabis) off Schedule 1," Shapiro said. "If we can 
avoid that story, of the woman's loss of her son to suicide -- and we 
know they're committing suicide, 20 a day, and we can prevent it with 
the use of medical marijuana -- I say
let's do it, by all means.

Marijuana was arbitrarily categorized as a Schedule 1 drug by the
Controlled Substances Act of 1970. A year later, the Journal of the
American Medical Association reported on cannabis' ability to relieve
pressure for glaucoma patients. America's first official medical
marijuana patient was registered in 1975. Today, more than 2 million
Americans have medical marijuana cards.

Dozens of bills to liberalize marijuana laws are under discussion on
Capitol Hill. In an especially notable move last week led by Rep. Matt
Gaetz, a Panhandle Republican, the House Judiciary Committee voted to
propose legislation that would force recalcitrant Attorney General
Jeff Sessions to approve at least two applications to grow marijuana
for federal research.

In 2016, the DEA agreed to accept bids from private growers that would
end the 50-year marijuana research monopoly owned by the University of
Mississippi and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which had been
criticized for producing substandard crops. After 26 applications were
filed, Sessions ordered the DEA to suspend the screening process
earlier this year and has been stalling on licensing ever since.
Gaetz's Medical Cannabis Research Act bill would also directly empower
the VA to conduct clinical trials.

Two weeks ago, two Democratic U.S. senators, Florida's Bill Nelson and
Hawaii's Brian Schatz, filed a bill that would allow the VA to
prescribe cannabis for veterans living in the 30 states where medical
marijuana is already legal.

But with Schedule 1 in place, those options would not extend to
active-duty troops. According to the VA, 3.8 uniformed personnel kill
themselves each day.

Shapiro, a political novice, said Nelson's proposal is "a step.
And sometimes you've got to take that first step. And then people
start becoming less afraid. So I think that sometimes you've got to go
for the half loaf, if that's what it takes to get the whole thing."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who hopes to unseat Nelson in the Senate, has
not responded to the Herald-Tribune's request for his stance on legal
access for veterans.

"Well, I'll deal with that when I make it to the Senate," he said at a 
press conference in June.

Scott's office has been embroiled in litigation attempting to prevent
Florida's medical marijuana patients from smoking the plant, despite a
2016 referendum approved by 71 percent of the voters without

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