As a U.S. Army veteran of Operation Desert Storm, I am asking Alaskans on this Independence Day weekend to join me in publicly supporting a policy reform grounded in a concern for the individual liberties of Alaskans.
On November 4, 2014, Alaskans will have the chance to vote on a ballot initiative that will end the harmful and ineffective policy of marijuana prohibition and replace it with a system in which marijuana is taxed and regulated like alcohol. Ballot Measure 2 will restrict legal use to adults 21 years of age or older and allow limited sale of marijuana through licensed, taxpaying businesses that test their products and require proof of age.
I have decided to take a stand on this initiative based on personal experiences with marijuana – experiences that I know are shared by many of my fellow veterans in Alaska. I served my country from 1989-1992, including a 10-month tour of duty in Iraq. When I returned to the United States, I suffered from PTSD and problems sleeping. In response, the VA prescribed me medications with such adverse side effects that they caused more harm than good.
In order to deal with my medical conditions in a more natural way, without being subjected to potentially hazardous prescription drugs, I turned to marijuana — a substance whose medicinal benefits have been well documented and researched.
The problem is that marijuana is currently illegal in Alaska. Veterans like me cannot legally purchase it, and our medical marijuana law does not cover serious conditions such as PTSD. Nobody who fights for their country on a foreign battlefield should have to fight the government for their right to treat the injuries and conditions they are suffering from as a result of that service.
There are other compelling reasons to support this reform. We all know that law enforcement officials’ time and resources would be better spent addressing serious crimes instead of arresting and prosecuting adults for using marijuana. Furthermore, a legitimate industry based around marijuana would create new jobs and generate much-needed tax revenue for Alaska.
Additionally, multiple major polls released this year have shown that the majority of Alaska voters are in favor of taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol. The time is now to replace the failed policy of marijuana prohibition with a more sensible approach that honors the ideals which unite us Alaskans.
I believe there is little logic in having policies that give criminals in the underground market monopoly control over a multi-million dollar industry based around a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol, and it is simply inexcusable to continue to prevent the proud men and women who have served this country from making reasonable decisions about their own personal health and well-being. It is time for Alaska veterans and non-veterans alike to stand up and support this commonsense change in policy.
• Darby Andrews served in the United States Army, with a 10-month tour of duty in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. He currently lives in Girdwood and is part of a coalition of military veterans supporting Ballot Measure 2.