DENVER - Yesterday, a bill failed to pass the Colorado House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs committee that would have added post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of 'debilitating medical conditions' that qualify for a medical marijuana recommendation. This timely bill (HB14-1364) would have addressed a major gap in access to medical marijuana in Colorado for veterans and all those suffering from PTSD. The bill sought to ensure that veterans won't lose their VA benefits for following their physician's recommendation to use medical marijuana.
On average a veteran commits suicide every hour in the United States – and medical marijuana has been proven to reduce suicide. But, Colorado veterans who use marijuana to manage their symptoms of PTSD risk losing their Veterans Administration (VA) benefits. VA policy permits veterans in compliance with their state medical marijuana law to continue to receive all their benefits and remain eligible for care in the VA medical system.
"It's insane that in a state with legal marijuana veterans don't have the same right as anyone else over 21 – especially considering how many lives are at stake," said Art Way, senior Colorado policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "No veteran should have to risk benefits or feel stigmatized when they use medical marijuana."
Iraq war Veteran Sean Azzariti of Denver, a former Marine who testified in support of the legislation yesterday, said "It saved my life and I truly believe that every veteran should have that choice of medication."
The Drug Policy Alliance, in coalition with medical marijuana industry groups and patient advocates, stood in support of the measure. "This issue is especially important in a state like Colorado that has a large veteran community. The last thing that should happen in Colorado is for individuals to be punished for using medical marijuana that has been recommended by their doctor to reduce their symptoms," added Way.
Presently 10 medical marijuana states include PTSD as a qualifying condition for eligibility -- including 4 states that have added PTSD to their programs in the last 6 months alone. And a survey published last month in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs reports that people with PTSD in New Mexico's medical marijuana program show a greater than 75% reduction in severity of their symptoms when patients were using cannabis compared to when they were not.
The Drug Policy Alliance's New Mexico office launched the Freedom to Choose campaign to advocate for veterans' access to medical marijuana for PTSD and other wounds of war.
"Veterans deserve the freedom to choose the safest treatment for their debilitating conditions," said Jessica Gelay, who is the policy coordinator for DPA's New Mexico office and the coordinator of the Freedom to Choose campaign. "When our veterans come home they deserve access to the medicine that works for them. We are asking lawmakers not to turn their back on Colorado veterans."
Many veterans like Ricardo Pereyda of Tucson, who fought in combat in Operation Iraqi Freedom 2, find medical marijuana to help when nothing else does. "Being able to treat multiple symptoms from post-traumatic stress with cannabis has been instrumental in my ability to lead a full and productive life," said Pereyda, who served in the U.S. Army and Military Police Corps, and is the Veterans Liaison for Arizona NORML.
Dr. Sue Sisley of the University of Arizona is the principal investigator of a proposed double-blind study that will evaluate the efficacy of medical marijuana for combat veterans with PTSD. "Twenty-two veterans a day are killing themselves," said Dr. Sisley. "They're not benefiting from conventional medicine. And while many are using marijuana to help them with this debilitating disorder, they want it to be legitimized. They want data. They want to know what doses to take. They want to be able to discuss this with their doctors. The Obama administration is hearing this, because allowing us to do this study represents a major shift in policy."
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation's leading organization promoting drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.