ABC13 Special Report: Is Virginia Going to Pot? Part Two
Danville, VA - It's one of the biggest issues across the country right now and it hits close to home for some Virginians. We're exploring the issue of marijuana legalization.We sat down with two veterans who say taking that step in Virginia could help thousands of servicemen and women dealing with post traumatic stress.Al and Mary Lynn Byrne met while serving in the Navy.During his 24 years of service, Al developed PTSD. That's when he found what he says helps him cope."My sister introduced me to cannabis. She said, 'You need this. I know you need this,' and instantly I knew she was right, " said Al Byrne.The couple became crusaders in the fight to legalize marijuana more than 20 years ago, when America's war on drugs was in its prime."The climate then was hostile. If you think it's bad now, it was downright dangerous then to even think like we're thinking, " Byrne said.The couple joined the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in the late 80's to push for medical marijuana use.CSPAN televised the group's national conference in 1990 which featured 5 medical cannabis users receiving marijuana through a federal program - four of them still receive monthly supplies from the government to this day.Those patients - using marijuana for arthritis, glaucoma, and pain - gave a face to the fight."This thing changed America. These people were in suits. They were mothers, fathers, stock brokers...actual human beings, and when CSPAN put that on, we got 40,000 phone calls in a week, " Byrne said.Virginia was actually one of the first states in the US to legalize medical marijuana in the 70's for people with cancer and glaucoma, but according to Al Byrne, that law doesn't mean much as long as marijuana is a schedule one substance under federal law."If you're a doctor and you prescribe a schedule one drug, you will immediately lose your medical license, " Byrne said.Delegate Gregg Habeeb says Virginia could change what's currently on the books, but that may not be anytime soon according to lawmakers."I have not seen any movement to do anything about that, " said Senator John Edwards.The change must come from the general assembly. Delegate David Englin introduced legalization bills before retiring in 2012, but since then, the conversation has gone quiet."I don't know that anybody even filed a marijuana legalization bill this year, which is normally one that we hear, " Habeeb said, but Al Byrne says it shouldn't be up to legislators."The law in every state - including Virginia - says you cannot make medical decisions if you don't have a medical license and that is exactly what they are doing, "Al and his wife - an addiction treatment nurse - started a group called Patients Out of Time to push for medical marijuana use for veterans - something that is already legal at some Veteran's Affairs Hospitals in the US.They believe marijuana could be the answer for those hurt - both mentally and physically - while serving our country."A soldier comes back so traumatized and, possibly, so wounded from being in combat, and to find a plant that can help, and our government to say no, there is no excuse for that, " said Mary Lynne Byrne.For more information on the Patients Out of Time Organization, go to http://www.medicalcannabis.com/.So far, we've heard from those fighting for legalization and reform, but what are the downsides? Next week, hear from folks who say allowing marijuana into our communities is not the answer.