With the debate in Florida heating up this summer, medical marijuana supporters received another boost for their cause. On Memorial Day, nearly 100 veterans pledged their support to Amendment 2, according to United for Care.
United for Care is an organization chaired by our very own John Morgan, who has led the movement to legalize medical marijuana in Florida. Although opponents to Amendment 2, as the medical marijuana initiative is known, have stepped up their resistance in recent weeks, a recent poll found that 80 percent of Floridians support it.
The veterans agreed to endorse the campaign because the initiative includes language that would add Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to the list of conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana. Currently, the VA estimates that up to 20 percent of veterans from the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, 10 percent of Gulf War veterans, and 30 percent of Vietnam War veterans suffer from PTSD.
PTSD presents itself through a variety of symptoms, including but not limited to flashbacks to traumatic events, severe mood instability, sleeplessness. The VA currently treats PTSD with psychotherapy and a cocktail of benzodiazepines, opiates, antidepressants, and mood enhancers that target different symptoms of PTSD. However, these drugs also bring a myriad of side effects like sleep disturbance, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies, to name a few, that can ultimately add to the burdens of PTSD.
As a result, many veterans decide to ditch the FDA approved cocktail in favor of marijuana, which they claim relieves their symptoms without unwanted side effects. However, this presents a problem for many veterans if they would still like to receive treatment from the VA.
The VA is a federal institution and is therefore governed by federal law, which still considers marijuana as a “Schedule I” drug, meaning it has no potential medical applications. Testing positive for marijuana is a violation of the Opioid Pain Care Agreement, and the VA can cut a patient off from other pain medications if they test positive for marijuana.
Veterans advocated against this, and the VA responded with a directive that prohibits doctors from removing legal medical marijuana users from other pain killers. Yet, this is only true in states with marijuana laws that include PTSD as a condition approved for treatment with marijuana. Currently, only 11 states with medical marijuana cite PTSD as a condition treatable with medical marijuana, while two others make it available at a doctor’s discretion.
This policy excludes the majority of veterans with PTSD who must stick with the cocktail of medications that the VA assigned them, or obtain marijuana illegally. As mentioned above, this puts a veteran’s eligibility to receive treatment at the VA in jeopardy, but also means that the cost comes out of their pockets. Although veterans may be able to illegally treat their PTSD, they are unable to get the VA to pay for it as it would for prescription medication.
Although the veterans’ endorsement is unlikely to change things where they need to change the most, the federal level, it can at least offer a legal avenue for them to acquire marijuana for treatment at the state level. It will also prevent the VA from cutting veterans off from all of their pain medications if they test positive for marijuana. Even though it would be a small victory, it would be better than the current situation for veterans in Florida suffering from PTSD.
Nov. 9 Update: Amendment 2 passed, earning 71 percent of the vote. Read more about this historic movement.