Vt. considers bill to allow marijuana for PTSD

Posted Jan. 26, 2012, at 8:04 p.m.

MONTPELIER, Vt. — A Vermont lawmaker wants to amend the state’s medical marijuana law so that anyone suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder could use it to help alleviate their symptoms.

State Rep. Jim Masland said he introduced the bill earlier this month at the request of a number of his constituents who were using marijuana to alleviate stress symptoms they felt were caused by their military service.

“I understand that these unnamed individuals, at least a couple, haven’t been able to find relief any other way or at least this is the best way for relief,” Masland, D-Thetford, said Thursday. “So I would say they are quietly, surreptitiously using marijuana, but they would much rather do it legally.”

Masland said the veterans who asked him to introduce the legislation had served in the Vietnam War as well as the wars the United States has fought over the last decade.

Vermont’s medical marijuana law took effect in 2004. Under it, people who suffer from a number of debilitating diseases or conditions can get permission from the state to use medical marijuana if it is recommended by their health care provider.

Vermont currently has 411 patients and 68 caregivers on the medical marijuana registry. The state is in the process of setting up rules that would allow the creation of up to four dispensaries where people could get medical marijuana legally. Currently, users or their caregivers are allowed to grow their own marijuana.

Michael Krawitz, of Elliston, Va., the executive director of the group Veterans for Medical Marijuana Use, said the use of marijuana to help veterans treat PTSD is gaining acceptance across the country.

“The bottom line is we just don’t have a lot of treatments for post-traumatic stress that are that effective,” Krawitz said.

Vermont is among a handful of states considering adding PTSD to the list of conditions that qualify patients to use medical marijuana, he said.

In a policy implemented a year ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs allows its patients to use medical marijuana in states where it is legal, although not at VA facilities, and VA health care providers can’t provide the documentation vets need to get it.

Expanding access to Vermont’s medical marijuana registry is up to the Legislature, said Francis “Paco” Aumand, the director of the Vermont Department of Public Safety’s Criminal Justice Services, which oversees the marijuana registry.

“Nobody makes any judgments relative to the medical purposes” of using medical marijuana, Aumand said. “If you meet the requirements of the law you are entitled to receive the registration card. From that perspective it’s a smoothly regulated process.”

Vermont Deputy Health Commissioner Barbara Cimaglio said the department would be reviewing Masland’s proposal, which was introduced and referred to committee last week.

In 2007 New Mexico legalized medical marijuana. Its program differs from most in that the state oversees the production and distribution of marijuana. PTSD was added to the list of conditions in 2009. Since PTSD and a number of other conditions were added to the list of qualifying illnesses applications have soared.

If Masland’s bill is passed in Vermont it wouldn’t be restricted to military veterans suffering from PTSD.

Masland said his proposal has been sent to committee to discuss. He doesn’t know if it will be acted upon this year, but he is happy the issue is being discussed.

“No one has approached me in the building and said this is a terrible idea,” he said from the Statehouse in Montpelier. “But given the breath of the issues that we have before us, it’s not the top of a lot of peoples list. And that’s just reality.”

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