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Marijuana: Bill to add medical pot to approved PTSD treatments faces important test

Marijuana: Bill to add medical pot to approved PTSD treatments faces important test
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

For at least four years, local marijuana activists have fought to have post-traumatic stress disorder added to the list of conditions that can be legally treated with medical marijuana in Colorado -- and each time, they've failed.

Now, however, advocates are hoping legislation scheduled to be heard by a House committee today will provide a breakthrough. Details, photos and the complete bill below.

This isn't the first time activists have taken the legislative route. In March 2010, as we've reported, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment actively lobbied against a bill intended to add PTSD to the treatable conditions roster. In addition, the department declined to hold a hearing about a petition on the topic requested by Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente -- an effort that led to unwanted headlines related to Kevin Grimsinger, the poster boy for the effort.

You'll recall that Grimsinger was said to have lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan. But the Denver Post subsequently revealed Grimsinger's military service ended ten years prior to 2001, when he claimed to have been horrifically injured by a land mine. Turns out his amputations took place following a Southern California car crash during which he'd been trying to take his own life.

This series of events didn't dissuade Vicente from revisiting the topic of PTSD and medical marijuana. He tried petitioning the health department again in May 2012, and at that time, he was optimistic that the request would be greeted more favorably.

"There have been more studies that have come out and shown that medical marijuana can effectively help those with PTSD," Vicente told us. "And we're also hearing anecdotal stories and reading in the newspaper about it. So we think the science is on our side.

"With the onslaught of veterans coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq with PTSD related to their service, we're hopeful that the cumulative growth in people suffering from this will force the health department to take a second look at it," he added.

Nonetheless, the CDPHE was no more receptive to blessing marijuana use for post-traumatic-stress-disorder treatment than it had been two years earlier. So eight legislators, including representatives Steve Lebsock, KC Becker, Joann Ginal and Dan Pabon, have created a new measure, House Bill 14-1364, to address the issue again.

We've included the complete document below -- and legislation doesn't get much simpler. The two-page bill "adds post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of debilitating medical conditions for the purposes of the use of medical marijuana," it states, with a safety clause noting that "the general assembly hereby finds, determines, and declares that this act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, and safety."

The need for such a change is underscored by Art Way, head of the Drug Policy Alliance's Colorado office. In an e-mail blast, he calls the continuing absence of PTSD from approved conditions a "major gap" in health support for veterans.

"On average, a veteran commits suicide every hour in the United States," he notes, adding, "Medical marijuana is a harm reduction tool that can help to stem this epidemic. But Colorado veterans who use marijuana to manage their symptoms of PTSD risk losing their Veterans Administration (VA) benefits.

"Veterans should not have to risk punishment for using marijuana - especially in the state of Colorado," he adds.

According to Way, the measure is slated to be considered today by the House committee on State, Military and Veterans Affairs.

Here's the bill:

House Bill 14-1364

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive circa May 2012: "Medical marijuana should be okayed for vets' PTSD treatment, activists say."