Veterans' group rallies for marijuana legalization

By: John Schroyer
September 27, 2012
photo - Vietnam Veteran Bob Wiley speaks at "Veterans for 64" rally Photo by
Vietnam Veteran Bob Wiley speaks at "Veterans for 64" rally Photo by  

A small but determined group of veterans gathered before the downtown Colorado Springs courthouse on Thursday to demand that those with post-traumatic stress disorder be allowed to use medical marijuana.

The rally was organized to announce a new campaign, “Veterans for 64.” Amendment 64, which would legalize marijuana, is on the Nov. 6 ballot. The group was formed because veterans say the state has denied a plea to allow PTSD victims to get prescriptions for medical marijuana.

About a dozen veterans at the gathering waved signs at cars, with slogans such as “marijuana saves veterans.”

Several speakers said that medical marijuana has helped veterans cope with pain, war-related and otherwise, and that those benefits should be extended to those with PTSD.

The problem is that the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, protesters said, has denied a petition submitted four months ago to add PTSD to the list of conditions for which medical marijuana can be used. They say the state also hasn’t held a required public hearing on the matter.

And they’re not happy about it.

The department “maintains an obstructionist policy,” said Joseph Hatcher, a veteran with PTSD.

Medical marijuana can be invaluable to PTSD sufferers, Hatcher said, and called cannabis “a conduit to take you into the regular world.”

State health department spokesman Mark Salley said the protesters are off-base, and that the department has up to 180 days — roughly two more months in this case — to respond to a petition. To succeed, he said, a petition must include a scientific study demonstrating that medical marijuana has benefits.

Salley added that it seems unlikely that this petition would succeed, since another one submitted in recent years was rejected.

But Brian Vicente, a lawyer for the Amendment 64 campaign, said the recent petition included 18 pages of studies, and that the department is skirting the law.

One veteran with PTSD said he’s been able to get a medical marijuana card because he also suffers from chronic pain, and that he would “absolutely” recommend it.

“Without it, I couldn’t walk,” said 52-year-old Paul Sotello, who moved to Colorado from Arkansas to take advantage of medical marijuana.

He said that he’d had a herniated disc in his back from a motorcycle accident on an Air Force base and that he hadn’t been able to walk for two years. Cannabis not only relieved the pain, it helped keep him sane, he said.

Another veteran at the rally, Douglas Szklarski, who has chronic pain in both knees, his back and his pelvis, said that medical marijuana should be permitted for PTSD as well as other ailments for former troops.

“With the opiates they had me on before this, I couldn’t even get out to the mailbox,” he said. “Cannabis brought me back to life.”

Contact John Schroyer: 476-4825
Twitter: @Johnschroyer
Facebook: Gazette John Schroyer

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