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Medical marijuana should be okayed for vets' PTSD treatment, activists say

In 2010, Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente petitioned the Colorado Department of Public Health to add post-traumatic-stress disorder to the list of conditions that can be treated by medical marijuana. This effort not only failed, but it led to a public-relations disaster over untruths spoken by its symbolic backer. However, Vicente hasn't given up. At noon today, he'll lead a group repeating the PTSD request, and he hopes the results will be more positive.

His reasons for optimism?

"There have been more studies that have come out and shown that medical marijuana can effectively help those with PTSD," he says. "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 adds.

If the CDPHE does so, it'll mark a big departure from its past take on medical marijuana and post-traumatic-stress disorder. In March 2010, the health department actively lobbied against a bill intended to add PTSD to the treatable conditions roster. And the department declined to hold a hearing about Vicente's earlier petition, which made unwanted headlines related to Kevin Grimsinger, the poster boy for the request.

As you'll recall, Grimsinger was said to have lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan. But the Denver Post subsequently revealed that 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.

At today's event, Vicente will be joined by three different veterans: Joseph Hatcher, a onetime Cavalry Scout with the U.S. Army; Robert Wiley, a retired Air Force major; and Wanda James, a past Naval officer and a familiar figure in the local medical marijuana community. And he stresses that all of these vets have been, well, vetted to make certain that none of them have Grimsinger-like skeletons in their closets.

"We've learned from the issue that happened last time," Vicente says. "And it isn't just about them. It's about helping the broader veterans' population in Colorado."

At the same time, though, he stresses the compelling nature of the speakers' tales -- particularly in the case of Hatcher, "a young man who served on the front lines in Iraq for years. He's going to be talking about his experiences there, and the resulting PTSD that he and fellow veterans suffer from -- and how medical marijuana can be used to treat that condition, even though currently its use is illegal under state law. That's what we're trying to change."

Page down to continue reading about PTSD, medical marijuana and today's event.

CDPHE management hasn't shown any public indication that it would be in favor of such a policy shift. Granted, former Colorado chief medical officer Ned Calonge, a favorite whipping boy of MMJ activists for his seeming antipathy toward cannabis, announced his departure from the gig in August 2010. But his successor, Dr. Chris Urbina, has not softened the department's approach to medical marijuana. Note that he was on the job when the CDPHE rejected hundreds of long-delayed patient applications because examinations were done by physician assistants rather than doctors.

Health departments in other states have been more receptive to the concept. "Arizona held a hearing to add PTSD to the list of conditions last week," Vicente points out. "And in New Mexico, its original law didn't include PTSD, but they had a hearing and heard from PTSD sufferers -- heard from people who'd experienced a wide range of traumatic events, whether veterans or otherwise. And after looking at the science, they added PTSD to the list of conditions. So now veterans there aren't suffering from this situation.

"We think Colorado needs to learn from this experience and do the right thing by having a hearing," he continues. "It's unfathomable to me that, after hearing these veterans' stories and knowing that they do benefit from medical marijuana, they would deny them. It would show an utter lack of compassion."

Today's rally starts at noon at the CDPHE's Cherry Creek offices, after which speakers will formally submit the latest petition. Get details in the Sensible Colorado release below:

Colorado Veterans and Advocates to File Petition to Add Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to list of Medical Marijuana Conditions

Vets from three branches of Armed forces to speak at press event at State Health Department; Colorado's lead medical marijuana advocacy organization to submit petition to amend state medical marijuana law

SOUTH DENVER, CO -- On Tuesday, May 29, at the Colorado Health Department Office, Sensible Colorado, the state's leading medical marijuana advocacy non-profit, will join with veterans of the U.S. Armed Services in filing a petition to add Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to the list of conditions for which doctors can recommend medical marijuana under Colorado law.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, nearly 20% of returning soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from PTSD. PTSD causes insomnia, nightmares, suicidal thoughts, and depression and many sufferers report using medical marijuana to cope. Under current Colorado law, those suffering from PTSD face criminal penalties for using medical marijuana to alleviate their symptoms.

Sensible Colorado is filing this petition on behalf of Joseph Hatcher, a combat veteran of the Iraq war, who suffers from PTSD related to his service. Mr Hatcher will be a featured speaker along with retired members of the U.S. Air Force and Navy.

"Eighteen veterans commit suicide everyday, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, and if medical marijuana can help just one of these soldiers, we have a duty to push for legal access to this medicine now," said Brian Vicente, Executive Director of Sensible Colorado. "Those who have served our country and been injured in the line of duty deserve access to any medicine they find effective. Its time for the Health Department to do the compassionate thing, and stop criminalizing these brave men and women. The time to amend our state law to reflect emerging science about the role of marijuana in treating PTSD is now."

PTSD is the second most cited condition by medical marijuana patients in New Mexico and Arizona is considering a similar petition to add PTSD under its medical marijuana law this week.

A rally will accompany the official submission of the PTSD petition on May 29 at noon at the Colorado Health Department office. See more details below.

WHO: Colorado veterans and supporters.

Speakers to include:

Joseph Hatcher, Army Veteran and form Calvary Scout, retired

Wanda James, US Navy Lt. 86-91, retired

Robert Wiley, Major USAF, retired

Brian Vicente, Sensible Colorado

WHAT: Press conference to discuss petition.

WHEN: Tuesday, May 29 at noon

WHERE: Colorado Health Department Office, 4300 Cherry Creek South Drive, Denver, CO 80246

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More from our Marijuana archive: "Ned Calonge on leaving as CO's chief medical officer & the 'distraction' of medical marijuana."


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