Pubdate: Wed, 28 Mar 2018
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2018 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: Kamal Kalsi


Following President Trump's rollout of his administration's policy
response to the opioid crisis, it has become clear that the president
would rather waste federal resources trying to execute drug dealers
than allow Americans the option to use medical cannabis.

In his speech in New Hampshire, the president mentioned a terminally
ill patient's "right to try" experimental medications that can enhance
quality of life, but ignored the National Institute of Drug Abuse's
own grudging admission that cannabis use is linked to health
improvements in people suffering a range of diseases, from cancer to

Trump called on Congress to amend a Medicaid regulation that restricts
funding to certain types of treatment programs, while failing to
address the numerous studies linking cannabis access to decreases in
opioid abuse and overdose fatalities. This is darkly ironic
considering the administration's numerous attempts to gut Medicaid,
including a proposed $237 billion cut to the program in the 2019
budget request.

In Florida, we got action Monday on the opioid epidemic. In New
Hampshire, we got ranting on the opioid epidemic. Guess which will
help more?

The opioid epidemic is a public health emergency that the Centers for
Disease Control estimates killed 42,000 people in 2016, with a recent
report indicating that overdoses rose 30 percent between July 2016 and
September 2017. The president's Council of Economic Advisers estimated
that the total cost of the crisis, on the low end, has been $300
billion to date.

The use of cannabis as an "exit drug" for people dealing with drug use
disorders is supported by a review of existing research, as is its
efficacy in chronic pain management -- but the White House continues
to ignore the role cannabis must play in ending this epidemic.

The proper regulation and research of cannabis -- steadfastly ignored
or dismissed by various leaders in the White House, the statehouse,
the boardroom and the hospital room -- is an existential issue. There
is nothing abstract about millions of Americans being denied effective
medicine while simultaneously being vulnerable to criminal sanction
and arrest if they choose to save their own lives or the life of a
loved one. It is strikingly perverse public policy to force patients
to choose between legal drugs with established track records of
misuse, abuse and overdose, and illegal drugs like cannabis that
possess a tiny fraction of the risk and a great deal of potential benefit.

This dichotomy is all too familiar for U.S. military veterans. As a
community, we have suffered -- and continue to suffer -- both chronic
and acute injuries from the physical, environmental and psychic harms
we have been exposed to: Agent Orange, Gulf War syndrome, burn pits,
depleted uranium, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries aE&
and the list goes on. Many of our brothers and sisters struggle under
a tremendous burden imposed by their injuries, a burden that is often
exacerbated by the treatment they receive.

Thousands of veterans have experienced how the "combat cocktail" of
medications they were prescribed to help manage their war-related
injuries and conditions often carried significant and often
debilitating side-effects. The result of this widespread polypharmacy
use within the veteran community -- whose members are often taking
some combination of prescription narcotic opioids, tranquilizers,
sedatives, stimulants and antipsychotics -- has ended many lives early
through overdoses and suicide.

Desperation -- borne of medication-induced or amplified effects like
depression, sleep disruption and sexual dysfunction -- is often the
driving force behind many veterans' first-time use of cannabis. The
relief they experience with cannabis use, however, is profound: the
ability to sleep, or relax, or manage pain without pills, or connect
with their family for the first time in months and years. These are
all necessary components to the healing process. In medical cannabis,
they have found something that tens of thousands of dollars a year of
powerful prescription medications could not provide.

To address the immediate, existential need the veteran community has
for cannabis access, and in recognition of the same need in millions
of other patients across the country, community advocates are stepping
up to help build the national alliance necessary to end cannabis

Doctors for Cannabis Regulation is the only national physicians'
association dedicated to the legalization and effective regulation of
marijuana in the United States, and it works to present the grounded
research and observations of medical professionals to lawmakers and
citizens. The Veterans Cannabis Coalition is dedicated to bringing
medical cannabis access to veterans across the country, without fear
of criminalization or stigma, by way of ending cannabis prohibition
federally. We have recognized an opportunity to continue to serve our
nation by challenging our institutions and elected representatives to
live up to their refrains of "supporting the troops" by correcting a
decades-long injustice that has hurt millions of Americans and
thousands of communities.

We are in a political moment where Congress and the White House can do
right thing by veterans and by patients across the country. Reschedule
cannabis, research it, regulate it and make it accessible -- this is
the message we are carrying in the halls of the capitol and to the
American people. We must come together to make the compassionate,
common-sense choice to end cannabis prohibition now.

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Kamal Kalsi is a medical doctor, a veteran of the Afghanistan War, and
a member of Truman National Security Project's Defense Council, and a
member of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation. Bill Ferguson is a former
Army infantry soldier, veteran of the Iraq War, and co-founder of the
Veterans Cannabis Coalition. They wrote this for
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