Medical marijuana's rejection by health dept. for PTSD treatment could lead to lawsuit for hearing

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Members of Colorado's health department held a hearing before deciding not to make Tourette's Syndrome a condition approved for medical marijuana treatment. But that wasn't the case with a petition involving post-traumatic stress disorder -- and Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente, who later this morning will lead a support rally for medical marijuana grower Chris Bartkowicz at the federal courthouse, is plenty angry about it.

In many ways, the health department's actions aren't a surprise. In an August interview with Westword, Dr. Ned Calonge, the state's chief medical officer, said the Tourette's petition was the first he'd received that included "any evidence of efficacy in humans -- and we're not going to add a condition on the basis of rat studies. There's no country in the world that approves medication on the basis of animal studies only. We need to have at least some shred of evidence from a good study that it's actually going to help humans -- do more good than harm."

Nonetheless, the Tourette's petition earned a thumbs-down anyway. Afterward, Vicente told Westword that the then-pending PTSD petition would be "the real test -- how this department treats the suffering Colorado veterans who have applied to have PTSD added as condition that can be treated by medical marijuana. And if they turn a blind eye to these individuals, I think we're going to have some serious outrage."

What's Vicente's reaction now that his worst fears have been realized?

"It's a disappointment," he concedes. "I would have hoped the health department would have acted with more compassion toward our veterans. We filed this petition on behalf of a soldier who had his legs blown off stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan" -- Kevin Grimsinger. "He receives relief from medical marijuana, and we don't want him to be criminalized for doing so."

He adds, "I feel like this is just an absolutely arbitrary decision on behalf of the health department. 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. And we're strongly considering taking legal action to have a fair hearing."

Such a complaint would argue that the health department is violating Colorado law by refusing to have a hearing about the PTSD petition.

"The constitutional amendment" -- Amendment 20, which legalized medical marijuana in Colorado -- "put a process in place where concerned citizens can petition the health department to get a hearing, so that members can hear about the merits of medical marijuana treating this proposed condition," Vicente maintains. "We want a fair hearing. We feel veterans deserve to have their say in order to expand and protect their access to health care. But we feel that process has been hijacked by the anti-marijuana zealotry of the health department and, in particular, the chief medical officer, Dr. Ned Calonge."

Of course, Calonge isn't long for his current job. In November, he's slated to leave state government to serve as president of The Colorado Trust. And Vicente believes his departure could result in a change for the better.

"He has unquestionably been a vocal opponent of our state's medical marijuana law," Vicente allows. "So I think there's a good chance we'll have a more open-minded audience for future petitions."

A suit is only "one of the options we're weighing" in regard to the PTSD ruling," adds Vicente. "We're deciding whether to file this petition for PTSD again under the new chief medical officer, as well as discussing a lawsuit. We're essentially circling the wagons in order to see how we can keep this righteous fight going."

He remains hopeful about a more positive resolution from his perspective thanks to a nearby example.

"Our neighbor to the south, New Mexico, did have a hearing about PTSD. They had medical experts, scientists and doctors who considered whether to add PTSD to their marijuana-eligible conditions, and after that intensive hearing, they decided it was appropriate.

"There is evidence out there," he insists. "But we're seeing an unwillingness in our state to listen to reason."

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