Marijuana, Veterans and PTSD: Will Feds Succeed Where Colorado Failed?

Sean Azzariti, center, during his days in uniform. Additional photos, a video and more below.
Sean Azzariti, center, during his days in uniform. Additional photos, a video and more below.
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Last year, a bill to add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions legally treatable by medical marijuana in Colorado failed despite the testimony of Sean Azzariti, a Marine who served in the Iraq war and spoke movingly about the plight of PTSD-suffering veterans like him. Cannabis advocate Brian Vicente described this development as "shameful."

Now, however, there are two indications that the issue may move forward at the federal level: comments from a Veterans Administration official and a new bill co-sponsored by Colorado Congressman Jared Polis.

Dr. Carolyn Clancy.
Dr. Carolyn Clancy.

The V.A. rep in question is interim under secretary for health Dr. Carolyn Clancy. In testimony before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs yesterday, she confirmed that “there are active discussions going on now” involving organizations that want to allow vets to legally access cannabis treatments to address their various conditions, including PTSD.

Clancy added that a “fair number of our clinicians have veterans who use marijuana” medically, despite a law preventing V.A. doctors from recommending medical marijuana. That rule holds sway whether a patient is in a state that's legalized MMJ, such as Colorado, or not.

The Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell, who's long championed the cause of cannabis treatments for veterans with post-traumatic stress order, was cheered by this development, but eager for more progress. In an e-mail to Westword, he writes, "It's great that this issue finally seems to be on the V.A.'s radar, but the longer the department and Congress take to sort this out, the longer veterans who served our nation will needlessly suffer.

Azzariti being interviewed on 4/20 in another photo from his Facebook page.
Azzariti being interviewed on 4/20 in another photo from his Facebook page.
Facebook

"We need to stop muzzling V.A. doctors and let them talk with their patients about whatever treatment option will work best for them," Angell adds.

On another front, Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer, a longtime champion of allowing greater access to medical marijuana, has introduced the Veterans Equal Access Act. The entire document is below, but here's an excerpt:

Te Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall authorize physicians and other health care providers employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to...provide recommendations and opinions to veterans who are residents of States with State marijuana programs regarding the participation of veterans in such State marijuana programs.

Representative Jared Polis is among at least eight co-sponsors who've signed on to Bluemenauer's bill thus far, with that number featuring more Republicans (five) than Democrats (three).

There's no guarantee this proposal will be able to negotiate its way to passage. Last April, Marijuana.com notes, a floor amendment on the same topic fell short. But Azzariti is optimistic about what he sees as forward movement on the topic. In a Facebook response to Clancy's remarks, he praises those who are "continuing to help in the fight to get our brothers and sisters the medicine that could help save their lives."

Below, see Azzariti talking about his experiences in an ad for Amendment 64, the 2012 measure that legalized limited recreational marijuana sales in Colorado. That's followed by the Veterans Equal Access Act.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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