Written by Christopher Cadelago
For two years, John Riccio worried that smoking marijuana to relieve his chronic back and shoulder pain would get him in trouble with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Then the department last year began allowing former service members to use medical marijuana — in states that have laws permitting it — in conjunction with their regular treatment. Riccio, a Navy veteran living in South Park, says he sleeps easier now that he can talk about it with his VA doctor without risking his benefits.
The policy clarification has veterans like Riccio wondering why the government continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug alongside heroin and deny that the plant has any medicinal use. In October, the four U.S. attorneys in California announced a massive crackdown on marijuana growers and storefront dispensaries.
“It’s complete hypocrisy and it’s a war on people,” said Ricco, a 31-year-old Wisconsin transplant who left the Navy in 2008. “It’s a war on good, compassionate, law-abiding people.”
The directive on medical cannabis has added a new wrinkle to a years-old dispute between the federal government and a growing number of states that allow marijuana for sick and dying patients.
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