Edwin McClannan lives in pain every day.
The retired Army first sergeant injured his spine during a parachute accident and, in the years since, has been prescribed a laundry list of medications to help him cope.
But the best relief he has found has not come from a pill. It came in the form of a cupcake.
McClannan mistakenly ate the sweet, brought home by a son and baked with marijuana, several years ago.
It was one of the few times he has had real relief from the pain since before being crushed under 125 pounds of military equipment in a jump.
“It’s all over my body. I’m in pain right now,” McClannan said. “I can’t sleep at night because of the pain.”
McClannan, like more than a dozen others socializing in a Fayetteville restaurant last month, is part of a growing group of veterans who have found marijuana to be a relief from pain, post-traumatic stress and depression.
Now, they are hoping to push state lawmakers to help them get legal access to the drug.
“For me, any break in the pain is critical,” McClannan said. “It’s very attractive to me. But I’m one of those anal-retentive, law-abiding citizens.”
The veterans, mostly retired senior noncommissioned officers or officers, have something else in common: They are Republicans.
The Fayetteville veterans are the core of the growing North Carolina Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, or N.C. RAMP.
The group’s president, David Hargitt, said they don’t fit the old marijuana advocate stereotypes. And he hopes that helps.
The push for medical marijuana in North Carolina has previously been fought by Democrats. Hargitt said he hopes the group’s input might help turn the tide in their favor.
Hargitt and other N.C. RAMP leaders attended this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering attended by conservative activists and elected officials. They plan to bring a medical marijuana resolution to the N.C. GOP convention later this year.
Hargitt also has become a regular face at the state legislature, promoting medical marijuana every Tuesday.
N.C. RAMP will be part of a larger legislative outreach day Thursday in Raleigh hosted by N.C. NORML – the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – and the N.C. Cannabis Patients Network.
The legislative rally starts at 10 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building auditorium.
Members will lobby legislators to support a medical marijuana bill.
One such bill, House Bill 78, was introduced last month by Rep. Kelly Alexander, a Mecklenburg County Democrat. Alexander’s latest bill is his fourth attempt at legalizing medical marijuana.
For the first time, it has attracted more than a dozen co-sponsors, including Rep. Garland E. Pierce, a Democrat who represents Scotland, Hoke, Richmond and Robeson counties.
But what the bill lacks is bipartisan support in a Republican-controlled legislature. None of the co-sponsors is Republican.
Hargitt has said a similar bill may be introduced by a Republican. He said the issue is becoming increasingly attractive to Republicans, for more than just the medicinal benefits.
Reports have indicated medical marijuana could bring in an additional $100 million in tax revenue in North Carolina.
Hargitt said marijuana prohibition has been a “fiscal disaster” that fuels border violence, creates unnecessary criminal records and cuts off the injured from effective medicine.
Hargitt said his group is part of a growing trend of more acceptance of marijuana among the Republican Party.
“Republican opinion is changing,” he said, citing a poll conducted earlier this year in North Carolina.
A January survey of North Carolina voters by Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling found 69 percent of those asked thought a doctor should be allowed to prescribe marijuana for medical use. Another 10 percent were “not sure.”
Among those supporting medical marijuana?
The practice received 57 percent support from those who said they voted for Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, 61 percent support from self-described “somewhat conservatives” and 47 percent from those identifying as “very conservative.”
The same poll found divisions in how far marijuana access should go.
While it showed majority support for medical marijuana, the survey found 37 percent of respondents supported full legalization, with 10 percent “not sure” and 53 percent against.
If North Carolina passes a medical marijuana bill, it would join a majority of states that have adopted some form of medical marijuana law.
Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have such laws. Another 12 allow the consumption of a specific form of cannabis known as cannabidiol, or CBD, commonly used to treat seizure disorders.
But marijuana remains illegal under federal law, meaning veterans who receive care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, even if they live in a state that allows medical marijuana, may not be able to use it.
But that could change under a bill submitted to Congress this month. The bipartisan federal legislation would end the federal ban on medical marijuana, instead leaving the decision to the states.
The bill is sponsored by Sens. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican; Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat; and Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat.
The bill would allow VA doctors to prescribe medical marijuana and reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug, defined as one with no medical value, to a Schedule II drug. It would open the doors to medical marijuana research.
“For far too long, the government has enforced unnecessary laws that have restricted the ability of the medical community to determine the medicinal value of marijuana and have prohibited Americans from receiving essential care that would alleviate their chronic pain and suffering,” Paul said in a news release announcing the bill.
A separate bill, introduced in the U.S. House in February, would allow VA physicians to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients.
“Post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury can be more damaging and harmful than injuries that are visible from the outside,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat who introduced the bill, said in a statement. “And they can have a devastating effect on a veteran’s family. We should be allowing these wounded veterans access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana – not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows. It’s shameful.”
Co-sponsors of the House bill include Democrats and Republicans, including North Carolina Republican Walter Jones.
For now, veterans near Fort Bragg have to make a tough decision.
They could move to a state that allows medical marijuana; break the law and risk the loss of federal benefits and criminal prosecution; or avoid the drug they have found to best help ease chronic pain, depression and the complex terrors of post-traumatic stress.
Those torn include a retired colonel who said he was taking 17 medications to treat traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. The medications were taking a toll on his body, harming his kidneys and intestines but not solving his pain. Their side effects left him home-bound and numb, his wife said.
Then he tried marijuana.
“I’m able to function and move outside in the world and not feel threatened or to be in such a hyper vigilant state,” he said.
“It works for me,” said the veteran, who asked not to be identified. “I use it. But I don’t like feeling like a criminal.”
The veteran said his doctor told him to look at moving to a state that allows medical marijuana.
“Instead of moving, we’re working towards making it legal now,” his wife said.
Moira Holman is a Fayetteville veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress related to a sexual assault while she was in the Army and has a bad back from a jump gone wrong. She said marijuana is one of the things that has kept her going.
Holman is a belly dancing instructor and a proud Republican. She said marijuana helps her be a productive member of society again.
“If I had stayed on medication that I was being prescribed for the pain, I would never be able to leave the house,” she said. “I would never be able to drive a car.”
“Marijuana has saved my life, because I can function on it,” she said.
Another veteran, who served 19 years before breaking his back when an improvised explosive device blew up his armored vehicle in Iraq in 2009, said he, too, was prescribed “a ridiculous amount of opiates” to treat his pain.
“It really just clouds everything,” he said of the painkillers. “It takes the edge off the pain, but it’s not like it’s not there. It’s just a horrible feeling.”
Four months ago, the veteran, who also asked not to be named so as not to risk losing VA benefits, tried marijuana.
It was difficult, he said. The soldier said he has been anti-drugs, including marijuana, all his life. And he said he is about as far from “hippies and high schoolers” as one could get.
But he couldn’t ignore the stories he had heard of others like him who found relief through pot.
“I was absolutely skeptical,” the retired sergeant first class said. “But I was sick of the opiates.”
Now, he smokes half a marijuana cigarette each morning and evening. That has allowed him to cut back on 90 percent of his medication.
“It’s a huge weight off my shoulders,” he said. “I’m hoping by summer to be narcotic free.”
“I’m not going to say it’s a miracle drug, because it’s not,” the veteran said. “But it sure has helped me.”
“I almost feel like a normal person again.”
Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at [email protected] or 486-3567.
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service – if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.