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Joanna Williams, a medical marijuana activist from Massachusetts, has relied on the knowledge and experience of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to be successful in lobbying for the legalisation of cannabis. She works with two Veterans For Peace groups in the state and oversees their work.
Williams is also deputy director of the East Coast chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
“They know what they’re talking about,” says Williams, who writes the issue report for the state chapter of NORML, known as CannabisNORML. “They know a lot about dosages, about cannabinoids, about whether people respond to specific doses of cannabis.”
“This is a group of people who’ve lived with this all their lives,” she adds. “When I look at how it has affected them, I think, ‘I can’t believe I didn’t think of this.'”
Her involvement in marijuana politics comes from her time in the military. She enlisted when she was 18, and went through basic training. Her only exposure to marijuana had been when visiting her boyfriend’s mother’s house in California after her 18th birthday. She was also prohibited from smoking it while on active duty, before it was legalised in her home state.
She has little knowledge of the War on Drugs, but has personal and professional interests in what she sees as a movement breaking through the system.
“I’m an East Coast person that needs to be in the trenches,” she says. “I can’t wait to see what happens.”
Marijuana activists have been pleased by President Donald Trump’s calls for states to ignore federal marijuana laws. But the drug remains illegal on the federal level, meaning the influence of veterans will be crucial in shaping the direction of the movement.
That includes lobbying for the legalisation of psychedelics, such as DMT.
Many veterans have woken up to the war on drugs’s side effects. DMT is a hallucinogenic that experts have long debated, but more recently a special commission appointed by Obama ruled that it could be prescribed to treat PTSD.
Although the drug itself has had applications for the treatment of severe pain, veterans with PTSD and other trauma are more commonly prescribed opiates.
Williams was surprised to find how much vets have relied on drugs like DMT, but still believe in its therapeutic effects. She believes they make an important contribution to combating the war on drugs’ side effects, which she says can include violence, homelessness, and eating disorders.
“Veterans continue to sleep in their cars, so they understand the dysfunction and trauma that can accompany cannabis,” she says. “Marijuana-assisted therapy can be very productive, empowering, and fulfilling.”
But although cannabis legalization has been one of the most closely watched cases in the new US administration, Williams and other advocates believe the federal government could intervene and revert to the War on Drugs if it deems it not to be as “successful” as previously thought.
Just as the government estimates the number of people with PTSD at around 3.6 million Americans, it now says it would stop treating people with DMT if it found the value did not meet its high standards.
“We’d be looking at 3.6 million people who could lose access to this effective medicine,” Williams says. “This is something we need to talk about.”