Mary McNeely says that if it weren't for medical marijuana, she would still be taking Percocet, Vicodin, clonazepam and Lexapro. The Iraq war veteran suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and the medical aftermath of a closed-head injury she received in a suicide bombing in 2004.
"They didn't know that I had a head injury until I got out of the Army, because the symptoms are very similar to PTSD," she says. "I didn't have any visible wounds from that. They just thought that I had PTSD from the trauma of going through that attack."
McNeely, 30, says that she's had a lot of problems with her memory: She can't recall people's names, and she needs a GPS at all times, even when driving around Colorado Springs, where she's lived for more than five years. But, she says, "I think that medical marijuana has helped my memory a great deal. I've only been using it for [under two years], and my brain function has gotten considerably better."
McNeely's only used MMJ for that long because she's only been out of the Army for that long. Despite the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs deciding that its patients in MMJ-friendly states can use the drug without worry, nothing has changed for those who are currently serving.
As described by U.S. Army Medical Department spokesman Richard Meyer, the Department of Defense policy for medical marijuana is pretty clear: "Federal law and regulation prevent the medical use of marijuana ... Marijuana is a controlled substance and has not been approved by the FDA for medical use. DoD Military Health Services (MHS)/TRICARE must comply with FDA requirements for safe, effective, and secure drugs for beneficiaries."
According to the 21st Space Wing policy regarding medical marijuana on Peterson Air Force Base, "marijuana prescribed or otherwise obtained may not be brought onto Peterson .... There is no medical exemption to this prohibition." Having it on base is considered a "risk to good order and discipline" and will not be tolerated, according to 21st Space Wing Commander Col. Stephen N. Whiting's policy letter.
For a sense of how seriously the military takes this issue, you might look to Oregon, where 39-year-old Richelle Golden filed separation paperwork with the Army National Guard after being diagnosed with two incurable autoimmune diseases. Her former commander assured her she'd be fine to apply for an MMJ card, and even registered to be her caregiver. But the Oregonian reported last year that when she was called back to active duty to receive her medical discharge, and informed her supervisors that she had been using medical marijuana, they downgraded her rank, put her on probation and, she says, even threatened her with prison time and a court-martial.
It's a lot to swallow, given the way MMJ has improved the lives of Jack Myers' customers. The owner of Bijou Wellness Center and a Vietnam veteran himself, Myers says 18 percent of his customers are veterans.
"I have so many patients whose lives were changed because of pharmaceutical drugs. And not for the better," he says.
Myers says that he has a Gulf War vet who came in with a list of 122 pharmaceutical drugs that he had been on, in many combinations, at some point in the past two years. "And while he can't get off of all of them, he is back down to 10, which I think is great."
Mary McNeely credits medical marijuana with easing her brain injury, post-Iraq.