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Florida - Veterans - Cannabis

I had a primary role in the establishment of VHA medical marijuana policy but up until today I had never taken the work, that started in my doctors’ office and had reached Washington DC, back to the various facilities to educate staff and connect the final dots.

Marijuana and veterans

(ORLANDO) - The morning came quickly on the road. Our gracious host Joe Sisco, Fla-NORML Outreach Chair has opened his winter rental property to our use for the first leg of this amazing journey. The thick ocean air, here a block or so from the coast, is like a warm hug after experiencing the first days of November’s chill back in Virginia.

I suddenly realized that our morning strategy meeting, over coffee, included Army [Robert Jordan], Air Force [me] and Marines [Joe]! We were heading into unknown activist territory. We weren’t going to protest outside the VA. We weren’t going to argue with the VA. We were arriving at the Viera VHA clinic to educate the staff about the existence and reasoning for the VHA medical cannabis policy!

After our egg mcmuffins we met up with the rest of our team at the Fla. Cannab Action Netwok headquarters. Our fearless leader, Jodi James, had coordinated a truck with a large banner and several vehicles all with large magnets all emblazoned with our tour logos and info all now ready for our convoy.

On the way across the inter-coastal waterway we saw an awesome thing, a good omen. Such a peculiar and special rainbow. We could see both ends! And it, with it’s it’s close, fresh colors seemed to follow us as we headed on our way..

The day seemed very still as we arrived at the hospital, a place caught in time. All age groups well represented by the Veterans. Before we even reach the door we hear honks of support and see energetic waves. We round the facility as we decide where to regroup. Part of our crew establishes a beach-head outside the perimeter of the facility with the truck and banners and a crew collecting Florida medical marijuana petition signatures. Another team of two wanders around the smoking section and grounds talking to interested Veterans while me and Robert Jordan head inside.

I had a primary role in the establishment of VHA medical marijuana policy but up until today I had never taken the work, that started in my doctors’ office and had reached Washington DC, back to the various facilities to educate staff and connect the final dots. We stepped out of the truck right in front of the entrance.

We breezed past the guard-post inside the doors and headed for the info desk. Although I had a sheet with a photo and name of the Chief of Staff along with the name of his staff person I spoke with, Megra [- I love that name.] I left the folder behind so we engaged the volunteers who were friendly and happy to assist. Two volunteers, one young man - college aged and another about late Vietnam era Vet were manning the booth. The young man engaged us and I asked for the name of the Chief of Staff and for directions to his office. It became a pretty comical moment because his directory required a name to unlock the information I needed. About this time the other fellow, who by now had already seen our matching shirts [Vets For Cannabis with nice leaf over the pocket on polo shirts, mine LEAP style over a dress shirt] was anxious to meet us it would seem. Carlos, the volunteer, offered to take us personally to the Chief of Staff’s office!

On the way to the Chief of Staff’s office Carlos pulled us aside and told us of his fond memories of his own marijuana laced past but also of his worry about cannabis being a subject of abuse. I assured him that the products available to Veterans in states where it is legal afford Veterans the ability to pretty well integrate cannabis into their regular assortment of doctor’s instructions and routine medications and asked that he recognize that it is unrealistic to expect medical cannabis proponents solve long standing problems of drug abuse and diversion just in order to pave the way for access to this plant materials under doctor’s orders. Carlos heartily agreed, shook our hands and wished us well, and showed us the rest of the way to the hospital administrative offices to personally present us to the staff.

Just inside the expansive administrative offices resides a force-full women manning the main desk, she was the first to greet us as we navigated this brave new world. I presented to her our mission to seek Megra and how we had spoke with her of many Veteran’s reports of cannabis helping them with their PTSd and pain etc. and how Megra, based upon that information was seeking out staff that might be interested in the reports from the field and information about the VHA’s very own medical marijuana policy with which we were uniquely poised to brief them on. Robert thinks her job was to get rid of us, that didn’t work.

A top hospital administration official, the boss it would seem, appeared about 1/2 way through my dissertation. Robert is sure she was about to graciously dismiss us when I mentioned something about talking with Megra. We were then escorted past the gate-keeper to a small but cozy office nestled between the facility director’s office and our target, the Chief of Staff. Our conversation was still a bit awkward but soon we were connecting pretty well.

I explained to the administration how I was from out of state however our whole crew was not only Florida but local. Oh, you are he whistle-stop tour? she asked.. Flipping the beautiful color handout, that Jodi prepared for her, over to reveal tour key speakers showing some amazement that Robert and Michael from the literature were standing before her.

We bonded over discussions of problems in sorting good from bad apples on an assembly line on medicine. I lamented how they had so little time to actually get to know their patients. I told her how, actually, we get to know the Veterans drug stories better then them because we have the time to talk to people for a hour or two. What really helped her see things clearly, I think, was my explanation of the big picture of pain contracts. I told her how I met with staff people who told me, at the patient service level, they felt like it was absolute rules they were following however the chief of the National VHA Pain Management Directorate and the VHA Ethics Committee had both expressed to me how they were only issuing pain contract directives as a sort of advice to doctors to be taken in consideration but never to be taken as a priority over following medical ethics and standards of medical care.

The Administrator keyed on that story and replied “but then they issue the directives like marching orders!” and we shook hands allies in fighting for Veterans best outcomes! She assured us she would carefully review the documents clutched tightly in her hands and would make sure the administration is availed of the info we presented. It was a good day..



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