Health

Why Our Veterans Are Fighting for Marijuana

On Veteran's Day, the Weed for Warriors Project plans to march in front of the White House and dump trash bags full of pill bottles to represent veteran suicides. Veterans with the marijuana advocacy group have been touring the United States since Oct. 17. They started in Los Angeles and have since been to Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, and beyond. They end their tour in Washington, D.C.

The advocacy group's aim? Educate people on the benefits of using medical marijuana, especially as a treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

RELATED: Why This Vet Was Denied Medication Over Marijuana?

The Veterans Administration (VA) has estimated as many as 30 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD. More veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD from previous wars. PTSD causes sufferers to relive traumatic experiences, have trouble sleeping, experience high levels of anxiety, depression, and other symptoms.

PTSD sufferers are highly susceptible to binge drinking and harmful drug use. It's the ticking time bomb that follows many soldiers home after they leave horrific war zones. The VA currently can't prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, and instead gives them prescription anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, and more, but a bill that's going through Congress might change that.

Many veterans say medical marijuana helps get them off highly addictive medications prescribed by the VA. Michael Whiter, a veteran and cannabis activist in Philadelphia, told ATTN: he was prescribed dozens of medications for years before he found marijuana and started to feel better. He served in the Marine Corps. for 11 years and came home with PTSD and chronic pain.

RELATED: These Colorado Military Vets Are Suing Over Marijuana

"I sat on the couch in my living room for five years and just drooled on myself, because I was just a zombie,” Whiter said. “The VA was killing me. I tried to kill myself three times with the pills they were giving me. I didn’t care whether I lived or died. I was completely apathetic about everything that was happening in my life, and I gave up.” When he discovered in 2012 that he could use marijuana to treat his issues things got better, and he was more able to seek therapy and work on his problems.

Whiter made headlines in Philadelphia when he intentionally became the first person to get cited for smoking marijuana in public when Philadelphia decriminalized it last year.

Sean Kiernan, CFO of Weed for Warriors, said they've been well received as they've traversed the nation. He said veterans would come out of the woodwork wherever they'd go to support their cause, and most of the veterans they met used marijuana or knew other veterans who did.

The biggest thing Kiernan wants to point out to people is that 22 veterans kill themselves every day, and it's often because of PTSD and/or other mental health issues. It might actually be higher, since many suicides are not ruled suicides. He sees this as an extremely important crisis that is largely ignored by those in charge of the country. “We lost less than 3,000 people in 9/11, and we spent trillions of dollars and killed lots of people and moved heaven and Earth,” he said, but we lose more veterans than that annually and almost never talk about it.

Weed for Warriors isn't just helping veterans. The organization helps anyone with PTSD (including victims of physical and sexual abuse) and others who wants to know more about medical marijuana. The organization has actually teamed up with the NAACP to help direct focus on how the War on Drugs has disproportionately affected minority communities.

“The ‘Reefer Madness,’ racist views got this plant outlawed for reasons that have nothing to do with public safety,” Kiernan said. He pointed out many Black and Brown Americans are sitting in jail while people make a lot of money with their new marijuana companies. “You arrest someone for cannabis, a lot of Black people got arrested ... and you end up letting middle and upper-middle class white people make millions off it," he said. "Something’s morally wrong with that.”

In the end, Weed for Warriors wants medical marijuana to be available to everyone who needs it, especially veterans with PTSD, and they want people who have been locked up for nonviolent marijuana crimes to be released as soon as possible.

They've been working on a documentary series during the trip that they hope to release in 2016, during election season.