Connect with us


The Good War: Veterans, Cannabis and the Fight for Legalization



This is a sponsored post by Eric Goepel of Veterans Cannabis Coalition.

My path toward becoming a cannabis advocate started with a quote. “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

Dwight Eisenhower, at the time a five-star general and most recently Supreme Commander of the victorious Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War II, spoke those words in 1946. The sentiment of the future 34th President of the United States struck at the heart of American society trying to mythologize its role in what was already being called ‘the Good War.’ However the country might feel about being victorious, humanity had lost—60 million people, or roughly 3% of the world’s population in 1940, had been killed. No amount of self-congratulation for being on the winning side of history could erase that. I cannot imagine the scale of death and destruction that Eisenhower experienced, but I ended up inheriting his hatred of war for the same reasons.

I came across that quote during my first deployment to Iraq in 2006. It felt like the right words to capture the reality of what we were doing: fighting both sides of a sectarian conflict that had become a beacon for extremists while trying to prop up a corrupt and untrusted government. That basic fact never seemed to get much traction in the national discussion of the war, though. It was always jarring to return home to yellow ribbons and being thanked for my service, while thinking back on all people we found in mass graves, watched hung from bridges or witnessed ripped to shreds in bombed-out markets. Thank me for what? It rang hollow.

My enlistment in the Army ended in 2011. By the time I left, ten friends and colleagues had been laid to rest while the wars they died in continued without an end in sight. The return to civilian life put into stark contrast just how brutal, futile and stupid our wars were, as I was greeted by a population who had largely forgotten about the decade-plus conflict their government was fighting. With that came the profound realization that all the things we did or failed to do both equally hurt the people we were supposed to help and protect. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein or the Taliban was cold comfort for the thousands of civilians slain month-in month-out, caught in the crossfire between a multi-sided, shifting fight that still continues into its second decade.

Guilt, shame and anger accompanied me for years, but I compartmentalized and worked to build my skills and experience with the hope of finding some greater purpose. During my time in Washington, D.C. working on veterans affairs policy, I became convinced that ending the prohibition of cannabis was the ‘good war’ I had been searching for. I had seen first-hand the immense benefit that many veterans had experienced medicating with cannabis, often after going through years of conventional pharmaceutical treatments with opioids, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives that destroyed their quality of life. But because of the long-standing failure of Congress and the White House to address the legal status of medical access to cannabis, veterans were essentially being punished by the government that sent them to war for managing the injuries that same government failed to treat.

Veterans issues are American issues—veterans are a cross-section of the population and deal with many of the same health challenges millions of other Americans face. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often brought up nearly exclusively in the context of veterans—yet research indicates that nearly 10% of all women in the U.S. will have PTSD at some point. Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are relatively common in many veterans, but as evidenced by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football players, brain trauma exists in other fields. Veterans often deal with chronic pain as a result of various physical traumas sustained in their service, but arthritis, fibromyalgia and back injuries do not discriminate by past wear of a uniform. To all of these conditions, cannabis offers potential medical benefits.

That is why I founded the Veterans Cannabis Coalition—to advocate on behalf of veterans—and all Americans—for equal access, research and an end cannabis to prohibition. In an era of immense political polarization, 9-in-10 Americans are in favor medical cannabis access while 3/5 of the country supports complete legalization. Those numbers are heartening, but in order to convert public support into legislative action there is far more work that needs to be done. We believe that veterans can be the bridge for many of those who are indifferent or hostile to cannabis issues to a perspective grounded in compassion and science. That is why we work with lawmakers and staff on Capitol Hill to support legislation, organize veterans in key states and districts to effectively engage with their elected representatives and build events and media products that help reshape the messaging around cannabis.

We have had some early success this year with the passage of H.R.5520, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, out of committee on May 8. That date marked the first time any piece of cannabis-related legislation had ever advanced in Congress, and the bill currently awaits a vote in the full House of Representatives. To build on this modest accomplishment, we are looking for support from those who care about all of the intersecting issues that are tied up in a nearly century-long injustice. Healthcare, civil liberties, criminal justice, racial equity, jobs, economic development and scientific research—by helping advance cannabis reform we can advance these issues and collectively strike at the heart of many social ills caused by prohibition. I hope you will join us in our efforts.

Let your members of Congress know that you support cannabis research and expanding options for veterans healthcare. Go to or text VCC to 52886 and take action now.

If you are in the San Francisco Bay area on July 13, please consider attending the Veterans Cannabis Coalition’s first fundraiser, hosted by the Berkeley Patients Group with support from Operation EVAC. Tickets are available here:

Please consider becoming a recurring supporter on Patreon or making a one-time donation on GoFundMe.

Eric Goepel is the founder and CEO of the Veterans Cannabis Coalition. He served in the U.S. Army for seven years, deploying twice to Iraq, and has previously worked as an assistant director at a veterans service organization and a policy staffer in the U.S. Senate.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
Become a patron at Patreon!

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Get our daily newsletter.

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox


Get our daily newsletter.