Medical marijuana and post-traumatic stress disorder: Vet petitions Board of Health

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Brian Vicente.
At 11 a.m. this morning, vets, lawyers and activists hope to present a petition to Ned Calonge, Colorado's chief medical officer, asking that post-traumatic stress disorder be added to a list of conditions that can be treated by medical marijuana.

The battle over PTSD and medical marijuana has been going on for months, notes Grimsinger's attorney, Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente -- and he doesn't expect it to be easily won.

"What has happened in the past is, Dr. Calonge has out of hand rejected any petition that's come his way and not allowed a public hearing," Vicente says. "But we think at the very least this deserves a public hearing. We think the petition shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that certain individuals who have PTSD benefit from medical marijuana, and we hope the state will recognize that."

Also arguing on behalf of this action is Kevin Grimsinger, who's become the Colorado poster child for PTSD and medical marijuana. Grimsinger, an Army veteran who lost parts of both legs to an Afghanistan mine, is the face of the current fight. Earlier this week, he was profiled by Denver Post columnist Susan Greene, and he'll speak at today's rally, which will take place at the health department's offices, at 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South.

According to Vicente, Grimsinger represents plenty of fellow men and women in uniform who feel as he does but are reticent to take a public stand.

"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," he says. "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, and we want to make sure Kevin and folks like him have that access."

These arguments were marshaled in March, when Boulder Representative Sal Pace presented an amendment to list PTSD among conditions that can be treated by medical marijuana. At the time, the health department actively fought against the amendment, with staffers passing out a document to legislators arguing against this change, which was eventually voted down.

This move chagrined the likes of Wanda James and Drew Milburn, both of whom are dispensary owners and veterans who say they've seen medical marijuana help those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, Sensible Colorado has spent weeks talking to vets about the PTSD issue and gathering data that's part of the petition.

The document "lays out the multitude of research that shows many people finding relief for PTSD symptoms by using medical marijuana," Vicente allows. "There are studies from abroad and studies from the U.S. that show this. And really, the state has a very low bar in that, as per the constitution, they must accept petitions to expand treatable conditions, and the petitioner only has to show that the individual 'might' benefit from the use of medical marijuana. The word 'might' is written in the constitution."

As such, Vicente goes on, petitioners don't have to incontrovertibly prove that medical marijuana is beneficial to everyone with post-traumatic stress disorder -- just that it might help them.

"We feel it's a fairly reasonable standard," he maintains, "and we want to make sure doctors have this possible treatment in their arsenal, and are able to advise patients to use it as necessary -- especially veterans, who are in a very difficult quandary. Most Veterans Administration doctors will not recommend medical marijuana, because it's federally a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which means it has no medical efficacy in the federal government's view."

Thanks to this designation, Vicente says, "we've heard from dozens of veterans that if they choose medical marijuana, and their VA doctor learns about it, they can be taken off all medicine. And we find that incredibly disturbing."

Calonge has not been receptive to such arguments in the past -- so what are the options for Grimsinger and Vicente if he rejects their call for public hearings on the PTSD issue?

"I think they're setting themselves up for a costly lawsuit," Vicente says. "And I also think it's poor public policy and disrespectful of our veterans."

Look below to get more details about this morning's event, as well as to look at a letter from Grimsinger to Calonge and the petition in its entirety:

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