The couple, crammed in a tiny Revere apartment with two kids and a third on the way, had spent months searching for a house they could afford.
It wasn’t easy in Massachusetts’ pricey market. But the man, a disabled Army veteran, had one advantage: a military benefit, a loan guarantee that would provide a low-rate mortgage with no money down.
Finally, in November, they found a split-level ranch in Dracut they loved; it had a giant living room, a two-car garage, and a nice yard for the kids. The veteran filed his Army paperwork.
But in January, as the deal was set to close, he learned that the Veterans Administration had denied his loan application.
The reason? His job: assistant manager of a licensed cannabis store.
“I was actually accomplishing a lifelong goal of mine, and then to have it pulled right out from under you at the 11th hour. . . . I was blown away,” said the veteran, 35, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his military relationship. “It was very frustrating and demoralizing.”
The man’s experience highlights one of the many ways that federal cannabis prohibition harms veterans who either consume marijuana or work in the marijuana industry. Veterans who find medical relief from pot say they’ve suffered a loss of benefits — which the VA denies — or have been labeled unemployable. Many more say they’re financially overburdened and medically underserved because the VA doesn’t discuss or cover the drug as it does with every other medicine, including opioids.
Veterans who work in the marijuana industry face financial consequences. Retired Army Major Tye Reedy, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, lost his military pension for working as director of operations at Acreage Holdings, one of the nation’s largest cannabis companies, according to a Barron’s report.
“A military officer working in the cannabis industry runs contrary to Army values,” the Army said, according to Barron’s.
After being rejected for his home loan in January, the Revere veteran called his congresswoman, US Representative Katherine Clark. Clark was outraged.
“We owe our veterans a great deal of gratitude, but it cannot just be something we say; we have to do it and act on it,” Clark said this week. “There had been an injustice here.”
When Clark’s office contacted the VA, the VA said it didn’t deem the veteran’s source of income “stable and reliable” enough for a mortgage. The VA also said that if VA employees accepted his income for a loan application, they could be prosecuted for assisting in money laundering because marijuana is federally illegal.
On May 23, Clark sent a letter, signed by 20 lawmakers, to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, describing the local veteran’s case and asking for clarification within 30 days on the VA’s policies. The letter noted that more than 211,000 people work in the legal cannabis trade nationwide, which generates $11 billion in sales per year.
“A substantial number of veterans earn their livelihoods in this industry, and in coming years, that number is likely to further rise,” the letter said. “The VA must acknowledge this reality and ensure veterans who work in this sector are able to clearly understand and can equitably access the benefits they’ve earned.”
Asked to comment, a VA spokeswoman said: “VA appreciates the lawmakers’ views and will respond directly.”
After receiving the written policies, Clark said, she will “coordinate a legislative response to ensure that veterans get their benefits.”
Meanwhile, the veteran in Revere is looking for a house again. His wife has headed back to work. This time, they’ll include her income on the application and go through a more conventional process without the VA home-loan benefit.
He has loved working in the cannabis industry. Having used medical marijuana to free himself from opioids that had been prescribed for chronic pain after both his shoulders were injured during a training exercise, the veteran now finds fulfillment helping customers in his shop.
“I was a shell of myself” on opioids, he said. “Cannabis is a medicine that’s revolutionary, that’s giving people back their quality of life.”
If only the federal government would see it that way, he said. After all, he said, it has no problem collecting his federal taxes from every paycheck.
“If I worked for a startup company, they’d see that as more secure,” he said. “My shop takes in $100,000 a day. What’s more secure backing than that?”