Texas has a long and proud history of supporting our troops and veterans.
The state is home to some of the largest military installations in the country, more than 120,000 active duty and reserve members of the armed forces, and 1.5 million veterans. There are laws that help veterans buy homes, run small businesses, receive college credit, and send their kids to college.
But in one vital area, Texas is leaving our veterans behind: it is one of just 14 states where veterans don’t have access to medical cannabis, which has proven effective in helping manage the physical and mental wounds that often stem from their service to our nation.
Lawmakers are running out of time this legislative session to change that by approving House Bill 1535, by Rep. Stephanie Klick. That legislation would update the Texas Compassionate-Use Act, to allow the limited, regulated use of cannabis to treat post-traumatic stress and chronic pain.
The bipartisan measure was approved by the House of Representatives 134-12 but is still awaiting action in the Senate as the clock ticks on the 87th Legislature. The bill would be a vital lifeline to the many heroes who willingly risked their lives and long-term health to protect our freedoms.
Military veterans suffer from PTSD and chronic pain at more than twice the national average. One in five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will experience PTSD or depression, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
We speak with them every day and hear their stories of courage and bravery — both in the face of the enemy when they were serving, and against the pain and trauma that haunts them to this day. Studies repeatedly show that cannabis can help. A recent study from Rice University found that 80 percent of Texans who use medical cannabis do so for chronic pain, and over 50 percent use it to treat PTSD.
Unfortunately, our veterans can’t access medical cannabis through the Veterans Administration, whose hospitals and doctors are prohibited from recommending or prescribing it. Instead, they often prescribe narcotics and opioid combinations that can lead to addiction, overdose, and a host of negative side effects.
Searching for a better solution, some veterans are turning to the gray market and other illicit sources, even leaving Texas for states that allow medical cannabis.
House Bill 1535 is not about legalizing the widespread sale, distribution, or recreational use of cannabis. Instead, it takes a conservative approach by expanding an existing program that already allows licensed medical providers to prescribe cannabis for specific conditions, such as epilepsy and terminal cancer, to do so for PTSD and chronic pain.
It would also increase the low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — a component that has medical benefits for patients — in the cannabis, and authorize medical research to assess the effectiveness.
Public polling shows widespread support for expanding the use of medical cannabis. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that more than 80 percent of their members agree cannabis should be legal for medical purposes.
More than that, this bill is true to Texas’ commitment to our veterans in many other areas.
The state currently has loan programs for veterans to purchase and improve their homes and property. It helps businesses owned by disabled veterans gain access to state contracts. It requires public colleges and universities to give students course credit for military service and tuition exemptions for veterans, their spouses and children.
But when it comes to offering the medical tools that veterans sorely need to fight their pain and trauma, Texas falls far short of most other states. We are running out of time to better – running out of time to make sure we don’t leave our veterans behind any longer.
Etten is former Navy SEAL and founder of the Veterans Cannabis Project. Young is a U.S. Air Force veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the CEO of Green Zero Labs.