“I heard if you smoke weed your will lose all your veteran benefits.” “You smoke medical marijuana? Don’t let the V.A. find out or you’ll lose your disability!”

These are two things I’ve heard from people when they find out I’m a veteran (honorably discharged war vet) and a medical cannabis patient. To be honest, these were my exact thoughts when I first got out of the military since cannabis is still federally illegal and the Veterans Affairs Department (V.A.) is a federal government entity.

Yet there will always be a breaking point for a veteran that leads us to medical cannabis.

For me it was a few things. I was tired from all the pills the V.A. hospital had me on (34 different medications at one point) and I was tired of all the bad side effects from the prescription pills. The pills ended up creating more problems than the ones they were supposed to be treating. I finally had enough. I got ahold of a friend that I  knew smoked cannabis and asked for some buds. I wanted to smoke to see if that could help alleviate my symptoms. I had read a few articles on medical marijuana and veterans at that time.

I rolled a joint, lit it up, inhaled and BAM!  This one little plant had just replaced the ungodly amount of pills in my medicine cabinet! This was in 2010 and I haven’t looked back since.

Fast forward to today and there have been advancements for Veterans who want to use medical cannabis, although the struggle continues,.  In 2016, the United States Senate passed The Veterans Equal Access Amendment on May 19th, which allowed doctors at the Veteran Affairs hospitals to talk to veterans about getting a medical marijuana card as long as the veteran lived in a medical state. This was a huge step in the right direction for the V.A.. The V.A.Doctors would be able to let patients know about the benefits of using marijuana as opposed to opiates or other medications.

However, at the “11th” hour the bill was changed behind closed doors after being passed by BOTH the United States Senate (20 yea 9 nay) and House of Representatives (233 yes/189 nay). The VEAA was altered and the provision protecting VA Doctors from discussing medical cannabis with veterans.

“What does this mean for veterans?!?”  It means that there is a standing “gag” order on V.A doctors, restricting them from talking to veterans about the benefits of medical cannabis. Please just remember that under HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) anything you and your doctor discuss is protected by law, AS LONG AS YOU’RE NOT PUTTING YOURSELF OR OTHERS AT RISK!  So each veteran must now “test the waters” so to speak and find out if there doctor is ok with medical cannabis.

In my personal case, I happen to have a doctor who’s open to the use of medical cannabis over prescription opioids. I just had to step up and tell my doctor “Hay Doc, I’d rather smoke weed than take all these pills.” Most doctors see the opioid overdose pandemic going on in our country and doctors at the V.A. note that some of the most common users to OD from prescription opioids are vets. Hopefully your doctor will be willing to listen to your desire to take medical cannabis instead of opioids!

As long as you’re in legal state my advice is this: IF YOU THINK MEDICAL CANNABIS WILL HELP TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR. I know multiple vets who smoke and regularly go to the VA for medical help. I’m one of them and I’ve never been denied services. I had to have surgery twice and was still pumped full of painkillers and sent home with bags of pills (I flushed these pills down the toilet).

Hawaii is a state that supports medical cannabis use. We are the first state to do so by state legislature actually, and there are multiple doctors in Hawaii who are veteran friendly and some offer discounts for veterans. So the only concern a veteran should have is what doctor are they going to see to obtain a medical marijuana card.

The other issue for veterans living in Hawaii (especially on Oahu speaking from experience) is how to get their medicine?  Well finally after years of waiting there will be medical marijuana dispensaries opening on most islands sometime this year. This is another huge step as now veterans and other card holders who can’t grow their own medicine for whatever reason will now a SAFE & LEGAL location to go to get medicines. These medicines are regulated by the state of Hawaii, producing safe and mold/bug and pesticide free meds. Also they will be able to ask questions about the medicine they are getting as different strains are better or worse for certain conditions.

There are a few organizations which help vets who want to know about medical cannabis, one of which is the Hawaii Veterans Cannabis Alliance or H.V.C.A.  The H.V.C.A has chapters on Oahu, Maui and Kauai. These are great places to find other veterans who can help you with any questions you might have on a wide variety of things from help with the V.A. to help getting your medical card to growing your own medication. I always tell fellow veterans who are not card holders to research and see if medical marijuana is better for them (99.9% of the time it is) and that there is nothing to fear from the V.A. being a medical marijuana card holder here in Hawaii.