Weed People profiles personalities from America’s marijuana sector -- activists, entrepreneurs, academics, and innovators that push legalization forward. This week, veteran legalization advocate Amy Rising.
Medical marijuana research has been mired in federal prohibition for decades, but data gathered tells us there are a few debilitating ailments that it can definitely treat. Among those is PTSD, an ailment resulting from experiencing extreme violence and trauma that plagues many combat veterans. Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the Israeli doctor first successfully synthesized THC, has shown through research that cannabis allows for “memory extinction,” alleviating PTSD sufferers from the anxiety of their nightmarish memories. Despite this connection, it took a long time for Veterans Affairs (VA) to recognize the healing powers of cannabis.
Amy Rising is an Air Force veteran who has been fighting for veterans’ freedom to treat PTSD with medical cannabis while continuing to receive other treatments from VA, as well as the inclusion of PTSD in state-level medical cannabis bills.
HT: Describe your involvement with cannabis in all aspects, personal, professional, etc.
AR: I have smoked cannabis on and off since 1995, when I was 12. I have been an every-day smoker since May of 2005, when I came off active duty from the Air Force. However, I did take a small break in 2007, while I was pregnant with my son.
In March 2010, when I lived in Delaware, I fought the VA for my care in the state legislature. Under statutes enacted by the Bush administration, vets were unable to receive VA care if they made over $43,000, but I was on disability from my job as the Small Business Liaison Officer at Boeing in Philadelphia. I spoke to the Veterans committee at the Delaware state senate, chiding them on their failure to fight for the relevancy of post-traumatic stress as a condition included in the medical cannabis bill. There were few actual veterans on this committee, and many were surprised I was a veteran.
Once they realized their error, and with the help of some amazing accomplices, I was able to get PTSD back on the bill, which Delaware Governor Jack Markell then signed it into law, making Delaware the second state to have PTSD specifically named as a cannabis-treatable condition. (In California, doctors can prescribe cannabis for PTS, but it's not specifically named as a condition in their MED bill).
Last year, New York used Delaware's law as one of the benchmarks for the Compassionate Care Act (CCA), also specifically naming PTSD. Because I had such a big part in the Delaware legislation, I was asked to go to New York to push the CCA. I've been here ever since.
HT: How is state-level legalization affecting your cannabis-related activities?
AR: First, I think it's really important to point out that legalization for medicinal purposes and full legalization are two very different things. I strictly pursue legalization for medicinal purposes at the state levels, and will do so until the federal government recognizes it.
The reality is that cannabis is the most effective treatment for PTSD because of the way it affects your endocannibinoid system. The drug companies and the politicians don't want to hear that because they're back-end war profiteering. They stand to lose millions in VA contracts, and the politicians will lose donation dollars. While the VA is federally funded, people at the state level run the VA systems, as I was able to appeal to people at the state level for the reinstatement of my VA care.
In mid-March, I brought my awesome accomplices Kunle Martins and Leor Feit with me, and I testified before the New York state senate about care and options for veterans. I told them of my struggles as a single mother with few options in the VA system, and that if I take the medicine prescribed to me, my son could be removed from my care. I also asked for traumatic brain injury (TBI) to be added as a condition.
HT: What are some of the victories of state-level legalization in your area?
AR: When the New York state senate regrouped after recess at the beginning of May, the CCA included TBI as a condition.
HT: What are some of the failures of state-level legalization in your area?
AR: CCA hasn't been placed on the agenda and voted on yet.
HT: Do you believe the federal government is making progress towards decriminalization or legalization?
AR: Prohibition is profitable in America. While most people don't realize it, the US is under extreme international pressure to end the drug war and decriminalize cannabis. Finally, other countries aren't afraid to stand up to America, and policies are shifting to reflect that.
I look at it like picking off a scab. The government we have now is comprised overwhelmingly of upper class, older, white men. They live in a completely different America than I do. It's up to us to make our voices heard and leverage the support of those other governments that aren't afraid to stand up.
HT: How long, do you predict, before weed is completely legal in America?
AR: Because of PTSD and other war ailments, I think that cannabis could be federally legal in America by the end of 2016. We already have a VA directive that has backdoor-legalized cannabis, stating that veterans can receive VA care if they are using cannabis to treat other ailments. I think that full legalization would follow suit shortly thereafter, depending on who is in office.
HT: How long, do you predict, before weed is completely legal in the world?
AR: I don't think we are too far off. I'd say within the next 10 years. Remember, prohibition has only been this way since the late 1930's.
HT: What is the biggest challenge facing legalization on a state level?
AR: Reefer madness, but I also think it depends greatly on which state you live in. However, the biggest questions should always be: Who owns the state? What's the biggest industry?
HT: What is the biggest challenge facing legalization on a national level?
AR: The corporations that stand to lose millions of dollars because of legalization, and the politicians they support. The problem on the national level is the money. If cannabis is fully legalized, that means its cousin hemp will be too. Hemp can replace most oil products, all paper products, and can be used for food. That's a lot of money to lose.
HT: What is the biggest challenge facing legalization on the global level?
AR: I think the US could be one of the last countries holding up the process.