Veterans to Push New York Senate on Medical Marijuana Vote

Simulated medical marijuana illuminated by a light box.
Simulated medical marijuana illuminated by a light box.

Veterans' advocates in New York State who support cannabis for the treatment of combat-related PTSD are orchestrating a push that they hope will lead to the passage of the Compassionate Care Act, the state's current medical marijuana bill. The act gained wide support from lawmakers and was passed by the State Assembly in 2013, though the state senate failed to vote on it before their session ended.

In an effort to encourage the senate's action on the bill in 2014, the advocacy group Veterans for Alternative Care (VFAC) is organizing a senate symposium aimed at educating lawmakers on the benefits of medical marijuana as they directly relate to veterans suffering from PTSD and other service-related illnesses. "A lot of republican senators say that they support our troops, but when it comes to medical cannabis, they don't follow through," says Amy Rising, co-founder of VFAC. Through the symposium, VFAC aims to draw a distinct connection between medical marijuana and veterans' rights to an effective treatment.

Research has shown that cannabis can be effective in treating PTSD. Dr. Raphael Machoulam, a professor of medicinal chemistry at Hebrew University in Jerusalem who discovered THC, has found evidence of the treatment's efficacy in lab mice. Last year, he told HuffPost Live, "In animals it's been shown that the endocannibanoid system helps us to forget. One of the problems of PTSD is that mice, and apparently patients, do not forget." A 2013 NYU Langone Medical Center brain-imaging study corroborated these findings.

While some states that have legalized medical marijuana, like California and Maine, include PTSD as a qualifying condition for cannabis treatment, several others do not. Colorado's medical marijuana law still does not recognize PTSD as a cannabis-treatable ailment, an issue highlighted by the state's ceremonial first sale of recreational cannabis to Sean Azzariti, a veteran suffering from PTSD who did not qualify for medical marijuana. In Delaware, Herrera successfully lobbied for PTSD's inclusion in 2011 and is now making the same effort in New York.

State Senator Diane Savino, the sponsor of the Compassionate Care Act, supports VFAC in their effort to shed light on medical cannabis as a veterans' issue. She stated, "The many veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder have put a new face on the issue. They represent still another group of patients who can benefit from the medical use of marijuana under a doctor's supervision, like children suffering from Dravet syndrome or anyone battling cancer."

New York's Compassionate Care Act currently does include PTSD as a qualifying ailment. Governor Andrew Cuomo's executive order legalizing medical marijuana to be administered by 20 hospitals in the state, issued on January 4, generally includes ailments considered to be "life-threatening or sense-threatening," but does not explicitly mention PTSD.