Over the past two and a half years the Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association has organized legal action to require that patients diagnosed with PTSD gain access to medicinal cannabis – among them are 500,000 Arizona war veterans, women who suffer from sexual abuse and domestic violence, and others. The action will be heard in an Arizona Court of Appeals next Wednesday, January 25.
In 2014, the Nurses group won a landmark decision to compel the Dept. of Health Services to accept an Arizona Administrative Law Judge’s Decision to add PTSD as the first new qualifying condition to the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. Read the former Director Will Humble’s article acquiescing to the decision here.
Since then, 11 additional states have added PTSD to their list of MMJ qualifying conditions. Now, 20 of the 28 states that have a medical marijuana program include PTSD as a qualifying condition. None, however, require the additional burden of proving concurrent “conventional treatment” on PTSD victims.
Heather Manus, RN, the President of the Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association, said, “Unlike the conventional medications used for PTSD, medical cannabis is a gentle plant therapy which helps in all aspects of the disorder – fear extinction, memory retrieval and stress mediation. Given the fact that there has never been a reported adverse outcome from the use of cannabis for PTSD, AZDHS’ imposition of this additional requirement is unjustified, dangerous and discriminatory. On the other hand, we know that ‘conventional treatment’ with dangerous pharmaceuticals have accounted for thousands of deaths by overdose and suicide.”
Nurse Heather, as she is affectionately referred to, has been a medical director of a Santa Fe, New Mexico cannabis dispensary since 2010. As an in-home psych nurse she frequently helped vets with PTSD recover from years of using harmful pharmaceutical medications that dealt serious side effects, replacing opiate-based medications with medicinal cannabis.
Lawyer Ken Sobel, who serves as the Vice President and General Counsel for the national non-profit, Grow For Vets, provides representation for the Nurses. According to Sobel, Judge McClennen got it wrong. “There are many cases where an administrative agency like AZDHS exceed their authority or mistakenly interpret the law. It is precisely for that reason that an independent judiciary must step in and rein in such agency. In this case, just like the New Mexico case, we are asking the Court of Appeals to reverse this unlawful and discriminatory ‘conventional treatment’ requirement.”
According to Mr. Sobel, Judge McClennen’s ruling has broader implications. “For example, if the state can impose a ‘conventional treatment’ requirement on PTSD, the state could require cancer patients – another qualifying condition like PTSD – to undergo chemotherapy – a conventional treatment – before being able to get an Arizona MMJ patient card, even though recent studies show that cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy die sooner than those who don’t. Moreover, the evidence shows that 1 out of every 13 Arizonans – 500,000 residents – suffer from PTSD, and the majority are women, many of whom are the victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.”
Further, “the ADHS has rejected every single petition brought to add new debilitating conditions to the voter-approved MMJ list over the past 6 years – approximately 36 in all. Only when it was forced to do so did it add PTSD on the second attempt. Most of these conditions have already been approved by many other states. The actions of the AZDHS in denying all of the petitions submitted, and now seeking to impose this unnecessary and burdensome restriction on PTSD patients, are more political than scientific.”
The President of Grow For Vets, Roger Martin, said: “We appreciate the tireless work of Mr. Sobel, Nurse Heather and the AZCNA. With 55 veterans committing suicide each day, many of whom because of their war-inflicted PTSD, this unnecessary and expensive burden on our returning war heroes is totally unjustified.
This is especially so in Arizona, the poster child for VA healthcare neglect. We should make it easier, not more burdensome, on them to safely access medical marijuana for PTSD.”
The Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One (Maricopa), will hear the appeal on Wednesday, January 25th at 3:00 pm at the Court of Appeals courthouse, Department “E”, courtroom “2”, 2d Floor, 1501 W. Washington, Phoenix, Arizona. The hearing is open to the public.