The United States Armed Forces and cannabis have had an adversarial relationship since the two met more than a century ago. Still, even with current zero tolerance rules within the military, there are some strides being made to make cannabis accessible on a medical level to those who have previously served.
While the military is intolerant towards weed, cannabis has popped up through the cracks on more than one occasion in times of conflict. From medical use for horses and soldiers to reports that nearly half the armed forces were getting high in Vietnam, weed has found its way into times of war on more than one occasion.
The earliest links to the U.S. military and cannabis can be found in the published manual for army horses called “The Army Horse in Accident and Disease.” There was, in fact, a time that the United States military openly supported the use of cannabis as a medicine for horses. The manual indicated that cannabis indica could be used as medicine to assist horses’ abdomen issues “as it relieves pain without causing constipation.”
Horses weren’t the only beneficiaries of cannabis in the early 1900s. According to National Botanicals, “before the 1920s, medics of the American Expeditionary Force were taking medical cannabis to Europe to treat troops overseas.” Cannabis, in these circumstances, was used to elevate headaches, cramps and insomnia. This was a short-lived situation as cannabis was soon vilified in the U.S., and eventually became completely illegal on a federal level in 1937.
Other than some testing of soldiers who used marijuana in Panama in 1931, the relationship between the U.S. military and marijuana seemed to diminish completely with the prohibition of marijuana in America. This all changed, however, during the Vietnam War.
Weed and the Vietnam War
During the Vietnam war, slightly more than 50% of the armed forces smoked marijuana. Interestingly enough, even with federal laws against marijuana, this cannabis usage was tolerated at first, or at least ignored, by the higher-ups.
“That changed when John Steinbeck IV, a Vietnam soldier and son of the Nobel-prize winning author, wrote an article for Washingtonian magazine in January 1968 about the common use of marijuana among the troops, setting off a media firestorm,” according to the History network.
Since this media firestorm in Vietnam, and the subsequent demonization of cannabis in the 1970s and 1980s with the War on Drugs, the zero tolerance policy for marijuana in the military is stronger than ever.
Drug policy and the military
There looks to be no major internal change in drug policy with the U.S. military any time soon, even with the legalization of recreational marijuana on the rise in the civilian world. There is, however, optimistic legislation in action currently that could grant veterans the benefits of medical marijuana.
The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, which was introduced to the House last April, would “allow veterans to use, possess, or transport medical marijuana and to discuss the use of medical marijuana with a physician of the Department of Veterans Affairs,” according to the bill.
The VMMSHA may seem like a very small step compared to how quickly legalization is happening outside the military. Still, if you look at it historically, by establishing marijuana as a potential treatment to those who have honorably served, it could be the birth of a relationship between marijuana and the military that can finally have a positive outcome and an optimistic future.