U.S. Army veteran Jeff Crawford and his family have been bounced around a lot over the past three years—living out of hotels and sometimes on the streets. When the Veterans Administration (VA) connected him six months ago with the L.A. chapter of Volunteers of America (a non-profit organization that helps the homeless find permanent housing, among other things), it seemed like things were finally looking up.
Even though Crawford and his wife struggled to raise the money to furnish their apartment with a working stove and a refrigerator, they were grateful for the shelter and the stability it provided for Crawford's two sons.
Sadly, Volunteers of America is preparing to rescind the brief respite it provided the Crawford family, because Jeff Crawford is a medical marijuana user.
While Crawford was initially assured by his case manager, Ben Perdue, that his use of medical marijuana (which he takes with the blessing of his VA caseworker to treat stomach ulcers, migraines, and arthritis) posed no problem, Crawford's new case manager with the L.A. chapter of Volunteers of America wants Crawford to take drug tests as a condition of his housing. As of this writing, I am waiting to hear back from an L.A. affiliate of the Volunteers of America regarding Crawford's situation. [UPDATE at 5:00 PM: I have a call scheduled with a VoA representative for Thursday morning to discuss the case.]
Under protest, Crawford took one drug test and failed when he tested positive for THC. Now he's one more failed test away from being placed in a treatment facility and separated from his family. His next scheduled visit from Volunteers of America is March 28.
"Of course it's going to hit the fan tomorrow, because I'm going to refuse," said Crawford during a phone interview.
Morgan Fox, communications manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, had a few choice words on the subject when he emailed me about Crawford's situation:
Stories like this really highlight the need for Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition. It is admirable that the VA has directed its employees not to discriminate against medical marijuana patients in states where it is permitted under law. Federal housing authorities should do the same without delay. It is unconscionable to force anyone into homelessness merely for using a medicine that works for them, especially when that medicine is legal within that state and the person in question has served their country.
It's likely that Crawford will have support when this turns into a legal battle. T.J. Thompson, a veteran and medical marijuana activist, has already begun by mobilizing Americans for Safe Access and Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access. But in the mean time, the threat of eviction and the possibility that his family will be split apart looms large. In an email, Thompson wrote,
I think it's going to turn into a legal or legislative battle, but right now I am interested in keeping his shelter, family and medicine with him—the 3 major pieces of his structure foundation. When dealing with veterans, if a piece of that support system is removed, you take a person that is typically (and statistically) more volatile than the average American citizen and send them into a whirlwind.… The organization that has offered to help him (with stipulations) is threatening to destroy more in his life than they were even helping with in the first place.
"They're supposed to be pulling you out of it, but they're just pushing you deeper," Crawford added.
All this over a medicine that he has been legally taking in the state of California since 2007. And Crawford's experience is not unusual. Cal NORML just published a new drug testing guide to inform consumers and the public about the fallacies and facts regarding drug testing.
Dale Gieringer, Ph.D., director of California NORML commented:
Cal NORML has heard many complaints from cannabis consumers, medical and otherwise, who have been unjustly denied housing, employment, medical treatment, child custody, release from parole/probation, etc., on account of abusive drug testing practices that have nothing to do with public safety or health.
In spite of it all, Crawford is trying to keep his head up—and do his best to make sure this doesn't keep happening to others. "I know I'll pull myself out of this, but it's going to take time," he says. "Fortunately, I'm being heard because I'm a veteran. But there are thousands of people out there that don't know their rights. And they get walked on. The outcome I want? That someone else doesn't have to go through this."