Marijuana: Jeremy Usher, Navy vet, could go to jail for treating his PTSD with cannabis

After returning from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq ten years ago, Navy veteran Jeremy Usher experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder according to the Greeley Tribune. He subsequently tried treating his condition with alcohol, resulting in multiple DUIs and a probationary sentence. But switching to medical marijuana to address his ailment could lead to jail. Marijuana-reform advocates have worked for more than two years to eliminate the kind of prospect currently facing Usher -- but thus far to no avail.

In July 2010, as we reported at the time, a group of veterans, lawyers and activists presented a petition to the Colorado Board of Health asking that PTSD by added to the list of conditions treatable by marijuana.

"We've been hearing from veterans for years who have been injured in the line of duty protecting our country and have PTSD related to that," said Brian Vicente, who'd go on to become one of the primary proponents of Amendment 64. "And they're concerned about the lack of veteran access for medical marijuana for PTSD. Currently, veterans face criminal prosecution for possessing or using medical marijuana to alleviate any sort of medical condition, and we just think that's unconscionable. People who have served our country deserve the best access to health care possible."

The following September, however, the state health department rejected the petition without even bothering to hold a hearing to look into the evidence presented by its supporters. Vicente was frustrated by this decision. "I feel like this is just an absolutely arbitrary decision on behalf of the health department," he told us, adding, "I think they've allowed their prejudice to cloud compassion. They should have at least allowed for a public hearing, so we could hear from experts regarding this issue."

Last year, a breakthrough on this topic seemed to take place at the federal level. In April, the Food and Drug Administration approved a study related to PTSD and marijuana, giving the go-ahead to the nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to analyze the effect of five marijuana treatments apiece on fifty veterans with PTSD for whom other more conventional approaches hadn't worked.

Problem is, another federal agency, the Health and Human Services Department, refused to sell MAPS government-grown marijuana provided to a handful of patients nationwide -- including Irvin Rosenfeld, subject of a November 2010 Westword blog.

Vicente's response to that?

Continue for more about marijuana and PTSD. "The federal government is, in some ways, divided," he said. "Agencies like the Veterans Administration have taken some fairly decent stances of medical marijuana. But then you have the DEA and NIDA [the National Institute on Drug Abuse] and organizations like them blocking research that other parts of the government are authorizing. It's another example of the federal government being schizophrenic and flat-out wrong on marijuana as medicine."

Meanwhile, a landmark February 2012 Colorado Court of Appeals case made it clear that even registered medical marijuana patients could not smoke on probation.

The man who prompted the ruling was Leonard Charles Watkins. At the time of a 2010 package by 9News, Watkins was reportedly on probation in Arapahoe County following a 2005 conviction involving sexual assault on a child. Nonetheless, a judge had sanctioned his use of MMJ, much to the chagrin of then-18th Judicial District DA Carol Chambers. In an e-mail statement to 9News, Chambers wrote, "Does anyone think it's a good idea to allow a convicted sex offender to get high? People on probation have admitted to violating the law. There are different public safety concerns and different laws that apply to them than apply to the rest of the community."

Chambers's office subsequently appealed the decision allowing cannabis medication.

Watkins argued that Amendment 20, which legalized medical marijuana in Colorado, "is paramount and necessarily prevails" over probation rules that forbid him from using or possessing "any narcotic, dangerous or abusable substance without a prescription." To that, the judges wrote, "We are not persuaded." Here's their elaboration on that point:

The Amendment provides that it shall be an exception from the state's criminal laws for any patient in lawful possession of a "registry identification card" to use marijuana for medical purposes.... Under the Amendment, however, a physician does not prescribe marijuana, but may only provide "written documentation" stating that the patient has a debilitating medical condition and might benefit from the medical use of marijuana... Therefore, defendant's physician's certification does not constitute a "written lawful prescription" as required by the terms of his probation.

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck appears to agree with Chambers and the Court of Appeals on the question of probationers and marijuana. When speaking with the Tribune, he declined to specifically address Navy vet Usher's case, but stressed that people in his situation "can't violate state or federal law. That's a court ruling. That isn't a Ken Buck rule."

For that reason, Usher remains in legal jeopardy; he's currently looking at 29 days behind bars for failing drug tests. But he's trying to bear up as best he can. On his Facebook page, he writes, "I would like to thank everyone for their support. It means a lot to me."

Unfortunately for Usher, that support isn't being offered by folks with the power to keep him out of jail.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana card not a license to smoke on probation, court rules."

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