When voters in Washington State and Colorado approved the sale and use of recreational marijuana, President Barack Obama – sworn to faithfully execute the laws of the land – took a pass on the fact that casual pot smoking remained a violation of federal law.
“We’ve got bigger fish to fry” than to prosecute recreational pot users, Obama – who admitted smoking weed in his youth – told ABC News’ “20/20” program in December 2012.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone, considering that Obama has elected to punt on enforcing provisions of Obamacare until it was politically practical to do so, several immigration laws and, of course, federal pot laws. But in each his failure to do his constitutional duty has had consequences.
In the case of marijuana laws, those consequences are negatively impacting our veterans.
As reported by the New York-based Post-Star, the state has legalized medical marijuana but because of federal laws against its use, veterans’ doctors are forbidden from prescribing or recommending it.
That’s really ironic to vets like retired Cpl. Matthew Welch, a former Army National Guard soldier who was wounded in Iraq in 2004 – wounds which left him with nerve damage and phantom leg pain.
“To me, we’re the people who fought for freedom. We should not be restricted the way it seems like we’re being restricted,” the married father of three told the paper.
“It seems a lot harder for a veteran to get medical marijuana than a civilian,” he added.
Welch, now 34, was driving a Humvee in the Iraqi city of Samarra when an improvised explosive device blew up alongside the road. While the vehicle absorbed the lion’s share of the blast, shrapnel left Welch with a large wound on his left knee, severing a nerve in the process. In addition, some shrapnel embedded in to his right knee, where it remains to this day.
After initial treatment in-country, Welch was flown back to the U.S., spending a month recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center outside of Washington, D.C. After the original injury, Welch said he wound up with compartment syndrome when his lower leg swelled up and surgeons had to cut it open. Doctors had to use a skin graft from his thigh to cover the wounds in his lower leg; he lost the muscles that move his toes.
That nerve damage left little feeling from his mid-shin up to above his knee and no feeling at all from mid-shin to his toes, except for some strange pains.
“I can suffer the same pains as an amputee (phantom pains) as if they were feeling a foot like it’s still there. Because of the nerve damage, I have the same issue,” Welch said.
He says he never knows when the pains will come. Sometimes they come three-to-five times per day; other days not at all. Often it feels as though someone is driving a nail through his big toe, he said.
“I just have to grit through it every time it happens until it goes away,” he said.
The Post-Star reported further:
He was prescribed Gabapentin, an anti-epileptic drug for neuropathy. But then he noticed mood changes and was feeling symptoms of depression. He was then prescribed an antidepressant, Lexapro, but that wasn’t effective without another antidepressant that was supposed to improve its effectiveness.
“After all that, I ended up with severe diarrhea,” he said, leaving him with having to take three anti-diarrhea tablets per day. At one point he says he was prescribed Ambien so he could sleep.
This process went on for years, as doctors attempted to find the right combination of medicines.
“I just got to the point where I was like, ‘You know what? I’m sick of this. I’m done.’ And I just stopped it. It sucks because my phantom pains will literally stop me in my tracks. It feels like someone is driving a nail into my big toe,” he said.
And while he says he doesn’t know if medical marijuana is the right answer, he would like to try it and find out.
“I haven’t had a civilian doctor in roughly 16 years, which is another issue I have with the law (in New York). You have to go the doctor, and if your doctor isn’t part of the program, he or she can find you a doctor to get it, but if you have back pain and want Percocets (a combination of acetaminophen and oxycodone), you can go to any doctor. But I can’t go online to find medical marijuana doctors. If you’re going to treat it like a medicine, you should treat it like any other medicine,” Welch said.
As for Obama, what he should do is work with Congress to get the law changed so that a) it is uniform throughout the land once again; and b) veterans who have suffered enough for the country don’t have to continue suffering.