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Legislative panel approves medical marijuana for PTSD

January 31, 2017 Updated: January 31, 2017 at 2:54 pm
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DENVER, CO - JULY 15: The Colorado Board of Health had a rule making hearing about people with PTSD qualifying for medical marijuana at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment offices in Denver. Christopher Latona, center, and his dad Mike Latona, left, both testified in support of approving medical marijuana for PTSD which Christopher has suffered from since returning from his US. Army service in Afghanistan. They were photographed on Wednesday July 15, 2015. The board voted 6-2 not to approve the change. (Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post )

State lawmakers on Monday offered hope to throngs of veterans who have for years been asking the state to add post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee unanimously backed the legislative proposal, offering a symbolic endorsement of the normalization of medical marijuana.

The bill was assigned directly to the Senate "consent calendar," meaning it likely won't face much debate as the bill moves through the Senate. If the legislation passes the Senate, then it will head to the House for debate.

"The impetus ... for this bill was we did hear about the large number of veterans who commit suicide because of PTSD," said Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, a sponsor of the legislation.

The measure, Senate Bill 17, was introduced favorably after an interim legislative committee studying marijuana issues unanimously referred the bill.

There was some confusion prior to the committee meeting Monday to whether the legislature was allowed to add PTSD as a qualifier. The issue revolved around whether the medical marijuana law in the state constitution only allows for the state health department to add qualifying conditions for marijuana, which would have tied the legislature's hands.

A legal analysis found that if lawmakers defined a "disabling medical condition" to include PTSD, then the legislature would be constitutionally allowed to add it as a qualifier, so lawmakers amended the bill to reflect those changes.

"Rather than contribute to the wealth of attorneys, we decided to take a different way out," Aguilar explained of the amendment, which easily passed.

Concerns were still raised by the medical community, who point out that there is limited research on the subject. They fear that marijuana could actually contribute to stress issues.

"As far as safety, there are well-known proven treatments for PTSD. The most important thing is not to approve something that would mentally worsen the symptoms of PTSD," said Dr. Adam Burstein, who represented several medical organizations at the hearing.

Aguilar, a physician herself, accused the medical community of "institutional bias" against marijuana as a treatment option.

Colorado would become the 20th state to allow cannabis for PTSD treatment.

For lawmakers on the panel, the issue was about providing veterans who've sacrificed so much for the country the option of at least consulting with their physician on the subject. It was also about honesty, as many veterans find themselves lying to their doctors about use of medical marijuana.

"It's unreasonable to continue to ask sufferers of PTSD to hide their cannabis use from their physicians," said Teri Robnett, founder of Cannabis Patients Alliance, which has pushed the PTSD issue for years. "What we need is honesty in that relationship. That's what this should be about."

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