DENVER, Colo. — More than 145 million Americans now live in a state that has legalized marijuana.
However, the drug is still classified as an illegal drug at the federal level, alongside cocaine and heroin.
Many veterans who use cannabis say federal laws have impacted their ability to get proper treatment at VA health centers.
CHANGING CANNABIS STRAINS
Going into a dispensary in a state where cannabis is legal can get complicated.
"It's a completely different industry today than it was 10 years ago," said Justin Henderson, the owner of Peaks Dispensary in Denver.
To put it simply, dispensaries sell many types of cannabis to achieve different highs for their customers. It's almost like a pharmacy.
"We don't claim to be doctors, but we are pretty good at this," Henderson said.
STILL ILLEGAL NATIONWIDE
While cannabis strains have changed a lot recently, cannabis policy nationwide has not.
The drug is still classified as an illegal narcotic at the federal level. For years, the only type of marijuana that government researchers could study were strains grown by actual government employees.
PUSH FOR RESEARCH
"Numbers don't lie," said Bryan Buckley, the founder of the Battle Brothers Foundation in Southern California.
Buckley says for the first time ever, the federal government is showing a willingness to study the marijuana that people are actually buying.
The strains can be much more different than the kind government researchers grew and studied.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill that was signed into law late last year contained a key change, and his organization has already obtained the permits to conduct similar research.
Buckley says accurate studies using real-world cannabis are the first step to changing minds.
"When you see the data and what it produces and the results it has — they aren't going to be able to deny it," Buckley said.
Why is Buckley so passionate? He is a veteran with PTSD.
"The first night I used cannabis was the first night my mind went to peace and I actually got a full night of sleep," Buckley said.
He has felt the impact of the drug being illegal when he goes to the federally-run VA. Sometimes doctors can be leery, he says.
"They are in a very tricky spot and I've had a lot of doctors off the record tell me they really hope this research works," Buckley said.
The debate over marijuana is expected to intensify in the coming weeks as the Senate prepares to debate even more reforms. At the dispensary in Denver, Henderson says change is long overdue.
"I've been disappointed by the bureaucrats for a long time," Henderson said.