Protesters supporting veterans held a die-in ceremony in front of the White House on May 20. (Weed for Warriors/DCMJ)

President Barack Obama still refuses to act on the issue of marijuana legalization, and reform advocates are getting tired of waiting. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democratic congressman from Tennessee, has discussed the legal status of cannabis with the president several times, asking Obama if he would consider at least rescheduling marijuana on the list of controlled substances so it can be researched further and treated as a less dangerous drug. But the president has maintained the same stance on changing drug policy during his whole presidency: Defer to Congress. “There are some in the Democratic Party who have urged the president to take this kind of action,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in January. “The president’s response was, ‘If you feel so strongly about it, and you believe there is so much public support for what it is that you’re advocating, then why don’t you pass legislation about it and we’ll see what happens.’ ” Cannabis is listed as a Schedule 1 drug, the highest level, which means it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Heroin and peyote are also Schedule 1 drugs. That said, Obama has let the states that decide to legalize cannabis explore the complexities of such an endeavor without federal intervention. Sean Kiernan, chief financial officer of the veterans marijuana advocacy group Weed for Warriors, told Truthdig he’s happy Obama has let the states experiment with creating a marijuana industry, but he wants to see weed taken off the controlled substances list entirely. Bernie Sanders is the only current presidential candidate who has proposed descheduling marijuana. Weed for Warriors and the Washington, D.C.-based cannabis reform organization DCMJ conducted a demonstration last week in front of the White House, demanding that the president act on changing marijuana policy. The activists educated members of the public on the effects of keeping marijuana illegal and the benefits of descheduling it. Organizers also carried out what’s called a “die-in” on the sidewalk in front of the White House, lying on the ground as if dead. This was meant to represent veterans and others who have died while using highly addictive and dangerous drugs that the organizers believe could be replaced by cannabis. Statistics show the dire circumstances for many veterans across the nation. According to a 2015 report, 22 veterans commit suicide daily, and many veterans take drugs like opioids to treat ailments that stem from serving in a war zone. These opioids often produce unfortunate side effects, such as sleeplessness and impotence, and can be very difficult to quit. Many veterans and health professionals have spoken out about how illnesses that affect soldiers, like post-traumatic stress disorder, can be treated using cannabis. Veterans and others also claim that conditions including pain, anxiety and depression can be treated with marijuana, without addiction issues or side effects. However, the illegal status of the substance makes acquiring it difficult. A bill passed in the House of Representatives last week that would let Veterans Administration doctors recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states where it is legal, but many advocates for drug policy reform aren’t impressed. “It needs to be noted that this is but a very small step in the right direction,” Ricardo Pereyda, a veteran and longtime advocate for expanding marijuana access, told Truthdig. Pereyda could still be put in prison for using cannabis in states where possession is illegal, and the cost of getting the amount of medical marijuana a veteran may need can be very high. Pereyda estimates he spends $7,500 a year medicating himself. “Personally, I’m supposed to be receiving 100 percent of my treatment from the VA, yet I can’t gain access to the very medication that’s saving my life every day,” Pereyda said. “I can get plenty of opiates, I can get all kinds of sleeping pills, and anxiety medication, and depression pills. … I can even get these delivered to my doorstep, without even having to leave my house. But I can’t access an herb.”

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