No one should face punishment for seeking the treatment they need.
Up to 20% of U.S. military veterans deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan will likely return home with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is, as the name implies, a condition that affects people who have undergone particularly traumatizing events in their lives. It could be caused by things like being shot at, being attacked, a sexual assault, surviving a car wreck, or enduring a natural disaster, among others.
The four types of PTSD symptoms include reliving the traumatizing event, feeling the need to avoid situations that remind you of the event, experiencing negative changes to beliefs and feelings, and feeling jittery/startled.
People in the military are much more likely than the general public to live with PTSD due to their potential exposure to combat situations. PTSD symptoms that originate in combat situations are especially hard to live with untreated.
As traditional PTSD treatment doesn't work for everyone, some people have found that using marijuana is a helpful alternative.
There's just one problem — while 23 states have legalized marijuana for medical use, the federal government still classifies it as a Schedule I drug (meaning that it has no medical use).
A survey found that more than 75% of doctors polled believe marijuana has medicinal use and would consider prescribing it if it were legal. And while it looks like the federal government might be inching closer to authorizing Veterans Administration doctors to offer the drug as treatment for PTSD, it's a work in progress.
This leaves some veterans with a difficult choice: leave their PTSD untreated or break the law.
PTSD can be absolutely debilitating if left untreated. While veterans living in one of the 23 states with legalized medical marijuana might be able to obtain a prescription from a non-VA doctor, that's not much help to those who don't live in those states.
And it's this choice that led one Iraq and Afghanistan veteran to face charges that might put him in jail.
After multiple tours of duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, veteran Kristoffer Lewandowski returned home to his wife Whitney and their three children in Oklahoma. Like many veterans, Lewandowski suffers from PTSD.
In June 2014, Lewandowski's PTSD symptoms flared up. Whitney brought their children to the next door neighbor's house to try to de-escalate the situation. The police were called to help. When they arrived, however, they found something in addition to a man in the midst of a PTSD episode. They found several of Lewandowski's marijuana plants.
Due to the state's particularly harsh anti-drug laws, the charges against Lewandowski hold a maximum sentence of life in prison — for growing marijuana for treating the PTSD he has as a result of his military service to the U.S. It's absurd.
Making sure that those suffering from PTSD can get the treatment they need starts by pushing the government to change marijuana's Schedule I status.
As mentioned above, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
"Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence."
It seems a bit ridiculous that marijuana is considered among the most dangerous drugs, sharing its Schedule I status with drugs like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. To put that in perspective, drugs like cocaine, Vicodin, and meth are all Schedule II (safer than Schedule I) drugs.
Worse yet, keeping the Schedule I classification has made researching potential medical benefits significantly more difficult.
The Obama administration has the ability to reclassify marijuana to Schedule II. It just hasn't.
In a January 2014 interview with The New Yorker, President Obama stated, "I don't believe [marijuana] is more dangerous than alcohol."
So why hasn't the DEA (which falls under the purview of the Justice Department, part of the Executive branch) done anything about it? It's something totally within his power to do.
Note that reclassifying it doesn't mean making it totally legal and unregulated. It simply opens new doors to research. With that research, it might become easier for Congress to take action on legalizing the drug for medical use.