Last year, Colorado's health department refused to approve medical marijuana for treating post-traumatic stress disorder -- but one branch of the federal government appeared ready to test pot's PTSD effectiveness. Now, however, the plan's on hold, much to the chagrin of Brian Vicente, who's long fought for veterans' rights on this issue.
"It's maddening," says Vicente, the head of Sensible Colorado.
In July 2010, Vicente put the weight of his organization behind Kevin Grimsinger, a paralyzed veteran who petitioned the health department to add PTSD as a condition treatable by medical marijuana. Nonetheless, the health department turned thumbs-down, due partly to what officials deemed a shortage of credible medical studies backing such usage. The campaign took a further blow soon thereafter, when it was learned Grimsinger had falsely claimed he'd sustained his injury after encountering an Afghanistan land mine; he was actually injured in a civilian car crash during what he described as a suicide attempt.
At the federal level, however, the prospect of testing appeared to be progressing. As reported by the Washington Post, the Food and Drug Administration approved a study related to PTSD and marijuana. This past April, the FDA gave 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.
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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. MAPS director Rick Doblin told the Post he thinks this rejection is an effort to block the study entirely.
The development frustrates Vicente.
"This is an issue many Coloradans have followed closely," he notes, "and it certainly makes sense that veterans and other folks suffering from PTSD should have access to any medication that works for them -- especially something as benign and state-sanctioned as medical marijuana. There had been a major push at the federal level by MAPS, and it appeared to be gaining momentum to force the federal government to back off from its outrageous stance that medical marijuana isn't medically efficacious in any way."
That the study is now in limbo indicates to Vicente that "the federal government is, in some ways, divided. 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."
If the worm is to turn, it'll have to do so in the legislative arena. "I really think this is an area where federal lobbying and the actions of enlightened congresspeople like Jared Polis are going to make a difference," he maintains, "whether it's banking or allowing patients to have the right to firearms."
This last comment is a reference to a development William Breathes cited last Thursday: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms issued a memo making it clear that federal law prohibits someone who is an "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance" to purchase or own a gun -- and MMJ patients are included in this number, since marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.
"The issue has been on our radar for about nine months here in Colorado," Vincente allows. "We've received letters from patients denied the right to have guns in Colorado. So the federal government is now backing up what Colorado has been doing for months."
When it comes to addressing this matter, "I think a legislative fix would probably make the most sense here, too," he continues. "The Second Amendment is clearly important, and you would think the government wouldn't restrict it lightly. Perhaps an interesting alliance of medical marijuana advocates and gun rights advocates could get together and pursue this in a court of law, but I think dealing with it legislatively is a more likely outcome."
At the same time, Vicente advises patients who already own guns not to panic.
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"Just because you become a patient doesn't mean the government will deny you a gun," he stresses. "When you become a patient, you're on a confidential list, and it's a violation for the government to give up that list to other wings of the government. So there is not a patient-no-gun list. The only way it will come up is through self-disclosure or a pending criminal case where police become aware of it. But I don't think there's necessarily more of a risk than a patient simply possessing medical marijuana, which is protected under state law but not federal law."
Nonetheless, "patients should know that having a gun is considered a sentence-expander," Vincente goes on. "If you have marijuana and a gun in the same place, you could be looking at a very harsh federal penalty."
Schizophrenic? You be the judge.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana to treat PTSD? Army personnel form MMJ advisory board."