Veterans for Medical Marijuana in Southern States
Updated: Sep 22
When the day finally comes that you can get a North Carolina Marijuana Card, be sure to thank a veteran.
A recent article written for Kaiser Health News and published by both USA Today and Stars and Stripes spotlighted the role that veterans have played and are continuing to play in expanding marijuana legalization laws nationally and specifically in the South.
And while the piece traces modern marijuana advocacy back to the AIDS crisis of the eighties, it attributes much of the movement’s success to the eventual involvement of veterans. The article also makes a convincing argument that it will be veterans who lead the charge in bringing medical marijuana to the 14 states where it remains illegal.
Helping “Change the View of Who a Marijuana User is”
Experts say that the medical marijuana movement began in California’s Bay Area during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and ‘90s.
AIDS patients, unsatisfied with the efficacy and side effects of the prescription drugs available to them, sought to expand their access to non-pharmaceutical treatments such as medical marijuana.
According to Lee Hannah, a professor of political science at Wright State University, the movement plateaued because the rest of America was less sympathetic to victims of the AIDS crisis than California was at the time. In order to make progress toward legalization, Hannah told Kaiser Health News, these early legalization advocates had to expand their movement to include “more target populations that evoke sympathy, understanding and support.”
Suffering Unites Disparate Groups
Fortunately for those early advocates, suffering is a universal experience that transcends group identity, and it wasn’t long before they found new supporters who were also eager for the relief medical marijuana can provide.
Hannah has found in his research that the medical marijuana debate grew from being about relief for AIDS patients to including those with cancer, pediatric epilepsy, and PTSD.
“It helped change the view of who a marijuana user is,” Daniel Mallinson, an assistant professor at the Penn State-Harrisburg School of Public Affairs and a co-author of Hannah’s, told Kaiser Health. “That makes it more palatable in these legislatures where it wouldn’t have been before.”
Veterans Expected to be a Big Part of Legalization Going Forward
And now that there are so many veterans advocating for medical marijuana, they are expected to place additional pressure on the states without medical marijuana to play catch up.
Those states without medical marijuana markets include other states that, like North Carolina, are traditionally conservative and dominated by Republican-led legislatures. And while Republicans have historically been opposed to legalization efforts, that is no longer universally true.
Jill Swing, the president and founder of the South Carolina Compassionate Care Alliance, told Greensboro Fox affiliate WGHP that much of the change in public opinion about medical marijuana is attributable to the changing of Republican minds. “The greatest increase in support has been Republicans who support it,” Swing told WGHP.
Swing said Republican lawmakers used to worry that supporting legalization would hurt them politically, but instead “they have been touted as heroes by stepping out and supporting medical cannabis legislation.”
In the Conservative South, Veterans Have Outsized Influence
Having veterans amongst their supporters is expected to help medical marijuana advocates working towards legalization in the South.
“The group carrying the message here makes a huge difference,” Julius Hobson, Jr., a former lobbyist who now teaches at George Washington University, told Kaiser Health News. “When you’ve got veterans coming in advocating for that, and they’re considered to be a more conservative bunch of folks, that has more impact.” Veterans also represent a significant chunk of the population in Southern states. “That’s what gives them clout,” Hobson added.
Veterans’ Stories are Highly Persuasive
According to Garrett Purdue, the son of former North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue and also a spokesperson for NC Families for Medical Cannabis, a pro-legalization advocacy group, because veterans are so respected in North Carolina, legislators tend to find their stories especially moving and persuasive. “For [lawmakers] to hear stories of those people that are trusted to protect us and enforce the right of law,” Purdue told Kaiser Health News, “is pretty compelling.”
One veteran who has discovered how compelling legislators find his story is Chayse Roth, of Wilmington, N.C. A former Marine who served multiple stints in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, Roth has been working with NC Families for Medical Cannabis, testifying before legislative groups and meeting with individual lawmakers.
“I’ve lost more men to suicide since we went to Afghanistan in ’01 than I have in combat,” Roth told Kaiser Health. He said that he isn’t a marijuana user himself, but he wants others, particularly veterans, to have the choice to do so. “It’s just unacceptable for these guys to go overseas and win the battle and come home and lose the battle to themselves.”
Another Marine turned marijuana advocate is Gary Hess of Louisiana. In 2019, he testified before that state’s legislature about the horrors he experienced while in action, the cocktails of pharmaceuticals that did little to alleviate his symptoms, and then the relief he finally found with medical marijuana.
Hess told Kaiser Health of a former colonel who was serving in the Louisiana House at the time and who told Hess after hearing his testimony, “They’re not going to say no to a veteran because of the crisis you’re all in.”
Hess has since started his own non-profit to advocate for medical marijuana, and has traveled nationwide, including to North Carolina, to share his tale. “Once I saw the power my story had,” he said, “the goal became: How do I expedite this process for others?”
Your Story Matters Too, So Start Finding Relief Today
Veterans who once fought for our freedom overseas are now fighting to expand those freedoms at home. And while their efforts haven’t yet brought medical marijuana to North Carolina, you can start getting ready for its arrival right now.
Reserve an evaluation with one of our doctors, and we’ll book an appointment for you just as soon as North Carolina’s medical marijuana market is up and running.
You’ll meet with your doctor virtually, using your smartphone, tablet, or computer for a telemedicine appointment. Not only will you find out if you can qualify for a North Carolina Marijuana Card without leaving the comfort of your own home, but you’ll save $25 off the cost of the evaluation!
Doctors Who Care. Relief You Can Trust.
Helping everyone achieve wellness safely and conveniently through increased access to medical marijuana. Our focus on education, inclusion, and acceptance will reduce stigma for our patients by providing equal access to timely information and compassionate care.
If you have any questions, call us at (833) 781-7320, or simply book a medical marijuana evaluation to start getting relief you can trust today!
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