Vets push for drug reform

On Veterans Day, Oaksterdam University--a Bay Area medical marijuana training school that promotes legalization--hosted a press conference with former soldiers to decry the criminalization of marijuana in the military.

Currently, marijuana possession of less than an ounce for members of the military may result in dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay, and confinement for two years. Negative military service evaluations resulting from use or possession can restrict or bar eligibility for Veterans Administration benefits, as well as GI Bill and home loan guarantees. Yet many of the roughly 30 percent of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, depression, mental illness or other cognitive disability find that medical marijuana can help ease their symptoms.

Despite this--and a growing push for legalization in several states--the Obama administration has escalated raids on marijuana dispensaries over the past four years. In April, federal agents with the Internal Revenue Service and Drug Enforcement Administration raided Oaksterdam, along with a nearby dispensary. During his presidential campaign in 2008, Obama promised to abide by state decisions regarding marijuana.

Ryan Miller served in the Marines from 1998 to 2002 and is now a sales associate at the Harborside Health Center in Oakland. He spoke at the Veterans Day press conference.

Taking a stand against the criminalization of marijuanaTaking a stand against the criminalization of marijuana

IN HONOR of Veterans Day, I must use this opportunity to exercise my rights and speak truth to power that many of my active-duty comrades don't have the capacity or safety to do. For fear of retaliation, they are silenced.

All people have the responsibility and moral imperative to legalize medicine that alleviates suffering and saves lives. As a veteran, full-time student and community activist, I must speak out on this issue and the impact of my service.

Daily, I'm privileged to act as a conduit of justice, as community members, including veterans, come to Harborside, seeking genuine care and legitimate medicine that is criminalized and unjustly stigmatized. As an extension of my military tenure, I now serve the Oakland community by enabling the safest access to cannabis to heal our sickest neighbors and wounded warriors.

Through my career at Harborside, I am able to restore a sense of service to my community and country nonviolently.

As a veteran living with post-traumatic stress disorder, I have found it essential to my recovery to maintain consistent and compassionate employment. In 2012, the federal government has made my continued access to basic needs a contentious matter. Today, I ask the federal government and newly re-elected President Obama to allow this veteran to keep his job.

In May 2012, I was laid off from Berkeley Patients Group, a model dispensary, and due to federal harassment, the business was forced to close. Many of us were left unemployed, and patients were left under-served.

With the current threat to Harborside, I may experience yet another layoff because of a U.S. Attorney's political agenda that aims to extend the tentacles of the war on drugs. The number one reason for incarceration of veterans is drug-related. Grossly disproportionately affected are our veterans of color.

I'm concerned about this contradiction and about the waste of public servants' efforts in scapegoating patients. As a Marine, I refuse to support a government that prohibits the sick from finding relief.

Each of us on this panel swore an oath of enlistment to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies, both foreign and domestic. We have each demonstrated a willingness to die fighting for our collective right to speak. That is why I am honored to be here today, and why I serve the veterans and patients of Harborside Health Center.

Thank you to Oaksterdam University for providing this venue and greater visibility to veterans in the cannabis movement.

Alessandro Tinonga contributed to this article.