Today, I spoke at a rally at the WV State Capitol to advocate for veterans seeking access to medical marijuana. This is what I said.
My name is Mary Nichols and I’m a minister of the gospel.
I’m sure that some of my fellow Christians might object to me standing here today to advocate for access to medical cannabis for WV Veterans. Some of my brothers and sisters in faith believe that all drug use is a sin. These sincere people are concerned about your souls—souls they believe are destined to be punished eternally in Hell. To them, this is the gospel.
The gospel is supposed to be good news. What perhaps my fellow Christians do not understand is what it means to live in a body that is continually punished in this life. It’s not good news when you are forced into a living Hell created by chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus said,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.
That’s what the gospel means. Freedom. That’s good news.
As Christians, we like to celebrate our veterans. We excel at honoring the men and women who have served to protect our religious freedom. Where we fail is in making sure you receive the medical and mental health care you need when you come home.
Since September 11, 2001, more than two and half million Americans have been deployed to the Middle East. According to the most recent report by the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs, more than 700,000 of those veterans utilized the VA healthcare system between March 2014 and March 2015. In that year alone, 61% of the patients seen were treated for musculoskeletal conditions and 57% were treated for mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and PTSD. What are we doing, as the church of Jesus Christ, to alleviate the suffering of these men and women who have faithfully served God and country?
One of the biggest objections people of faith raise to medical cannabis is that it’s a gateway drug. Okay, let’s work through that. There are certainly a small percentage of people who start out using cannabis and go on to harder drugs.
You know what else is a gateway drug? Hydrocodone. Hydrocodone is a gateway drug to heroin.
I’ve been a chronic pain sufferer for more than 10 years. Seven of those years, I took Lortab every day. That’s 84 months, or 2,555 days that I used hydrocodone every single day. I’m a minister of the gospel. I was also a drug user. The only difference is that I had a prescription for my drugs and they were covered by PEIA.
Oh, and all of that Lortab didn’t work because it’s completely ineffective for neuropathic pain. This is how people accidentally become drug addicts.
It seems like West Virginia is making the news every other day because of drug abuse. More people than ever are addicted to prescription pain medications. Do not be mistaken– our growing heroin problem is directly related to hydrocodone addiction. People who once used hydrocodone can’t get it anymore because of changes in the federal law about how pain medications are prescribed.
What I hear from some of the more than 50,000 Gulf War veterans in WV is that the treatments they receive from the VA are NOT working. A lot veterans share my story of unsuccessful pain management treatment with opioids that don’t work. Other veterans post pictures on Facebook of the DOZENS of medications they have been prescribed for PTSD symptoms. One medication is piled onto the others, sometimes in dangerous combinations, with no relief. I have friends who live with the daily fear that their husbands will either commit suicide or act out violently in some way. These men and women who gave up their health to serve their country feel like nobody hears and nobody cares about their suffering. These are men and women who have turned to the VA time and again for help only to be handed yet another prescription. In almost half of the United States—23 other states— those same veterans could receive some degree of relief from medical cannabis. But not here. How is that fair or right? How does this honor the men and women who have faithfully served?
A growing body of medical research has shown that cannabis is both safe and effective in treating many of the conditions I have just described. Yet, because we’ve been socialized to believe that cannabis is a bad drug smoked by dirty hippies, we refuse to even consider the science that is right in front of us.
I’m a minister of the gospel and I believe that God created the world. If that’s the truth, it only makes sense, then, that God also created cannabis. Not only has cannabis been used medicinally by human beings for thousands of years, science has demonstrated that cannaboids occur naturally in the human body. Specifically, nursing mothers produce cannaboid compounds in breast milk. These compounds are believed to stimulate appetite in infants and to induce sleepiness after nursing. Our bodies are designed from birth to be soothed and healed by the compounds in marijuana.
I’m a minister of the gospel, and I agree that the issue of medical cannabis is indeed a moral and ethical issue. It’s about the morality and ethics of human suffering. For too long, we have sent men and women into battle for our freedom and then denied them access to a God-given substance that might help alleviate their suffering out of a misguided concern for their spiritual welfare. The Bible speaks clearly about the evils of alcohol and drunkenness, yet in 1 Tim 5:22, Paul advises Timothy, “No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” If Timothy had PTSD, would Paul not have suggested that he try a little cannabis?
I am a minister of the gospel, and I say with all certainty that God does hear and care about the suffering of WV Veterans. God cares about your body as well as your soul. God calls on us repeatedly through his prophets to do everything that is within our power to eradicate human suffering in all forms. The church should be doing more to help advance the cause of compassionate usage in WV, both for veterans who have served our country and for everyday citizens who suffer. The time has come for men and women of faith to become people of action.
Today is the day that we stand up for those who have stood up for us. Today is the day we call on our WV lawmakers to do everything within their power to advance access to medical cannabis for our veterans. I ask you to do this not because it is convenient or easy, but because it is good and right.