Press Release  | 07/08/2013

DPA, Veterans and Legislators to Launch "Freedom to Choose" Campaign to Improve Veterans' Access to Medical Marijuana for PTSD and Other Wounds of War

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New Mexico Patients and Veterans Fighting Employment Discrimination and Stigma from Medical Professionals that Create Barriers to Medical Marijuana

July 9: US Rep. Lujan Grisham, New Mexico State Rep. Antonio Maestas, Veterans, Patients and the Drug Policy Alliance to Speak at Press Teleconference

The Drug Policy Alliance, veterans’ groups, elected officials and others are introducing a campaign to protect New Mexico’s military veterans’ legal access to medical marijuana. The Campaign is asking New Mexico to stand with veterans and their families to ask our state lawmakers, employers, and medical professionals to support efforts to ensure that when veterans come home they will have access to the medicine that works for them.

New Mexico’s medical marijuana program is considered a nationwide model – in 2007 New Mexico became the first state to develop and implement a state-licensed medical marijuana production and distribution system, and in 2009 it became the first medical marijuana state to specifically include post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition.

“This campaign has national implications, as hundreds of thousands of veterans return home from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD,” said Jessica Gelay of the Drug Policy Alliance. “We hope that this campaign will encourage other states to ensure that their veterans receive the best care possible.”

During her 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Susana Martinez (R) vowed to repeal New Mexico’s medical marijuana law. In 2012, access to medical marijuana for people diagnosed with PTSD was in danger when a petition was brought to the Department of Health program requesting that PTSD be eliminated from the list of conditions allowed for eligibility in the state’s medical marijuana program. Fortunately, in May, the DOH upheld a recommendation by the Medical Cannabis Program’s Medical Advisory Board and announced that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will remain a qualifying condition.

Still, many New Mexico veterans are finding it difficult to access effective and safe treatments for their conditions and are sometimes fired from their jobs for being legal patients in the state-run program. Augustine Stanley, an Iraqi war veteran, was fired by the Bernalillo Metropolitan Detention Center for being a legal and qualified patient in New Mexico's medical marijuana program. This unfair decision has had life-changing consequences for the Stanleys who are now struggling to support their family. Augustine’s wife, Anetra Stanley, says “It is wrong that this happened, but I don’t want him to stop using medical marijuana. This medicine gave us our family back, and we aren't alone.”

What: Press Teleconference Introducing the Freedom to Choose Campaign

When: July 9th, 1 pm MT/ 3 pm ET

Location: Please contact Tony Newman 646-335-5384

Who:   

  • NM Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (D)
  • State Representative Antonio Maestas (D)
  • Augustine Stanley, veteran and registered NM medical marijuana patient
  • Michael Krawitz, Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access
  • Dr. Florian Birkmayer, Birkmayer Institute
  • Jessica Gelay, Drug Policy Alliance
  • State Representative Bob Wooley (R) (Invited)

Service members returning home from tours of duty are often physically and psychologically shattered. Data indicates that these combat soldiers will struggle with higher rates of substance abuse, overdose, imprisonment, suicide, domestic violence, unemployment and homelessness than the general population. Medical marijuana is something that researchers have found helpful to relieve symptoms from treatment resistant combat stress and supports people in reintegrating into their community and family life. This research has been confirmed by the experiences of thousands of veterans, especially those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“When I returned home from Afghanistan I was diagnosed with PTSD. I worked with my doctor and tried many prescription drugs. Taking handfuls of pills every day, every one with a different set of side effects was hard on my body, and I still experienced some symptoms,” said Michael Innis, who served in the General Infantry and who was awarded a Purple Heart after the convoy he was traveling with got hit by an IED and was then ambushed. “Cannabis was not my first choice of medicine, but I tell you first hand, this medicine works for me. Cannabis allows me to leave my house and has helped me to return to work.”

Unfortunately, veterans’ legal access to medical marijuana is not secure or widely acknowledged by New Mexico’s employers and the medical community as proven medicine to relief serious combat conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain. On June 11th, 2013, the Albuquerque Journal reported, “It’s been more than three decades since post-traumatic stress disorder was recognized as a distinct medical diagnosis by the medical community and the federal government, but many veterans dealing with PTSD are still having trouble getting effective treatment.”

Montel Williams, Emmy award-winning talk-show host and decorated former naval intelligence officer – and medical marijuana patient – has worked with DPA for several years to advocate for the rights of medical marijuana patients, including military veterans.

“I'm a proud 22-year veteran of the United States Marines Corps and Navy,” said Montel Williams, a sufferer of multiple sclerosis since 1999 who uses medical cannabis to ease his severe neuropathic pain. “I find it egregiously offensive that we can send our children off to die for our freedom, and then so callously turn our backs on their freedom when they return home. Governor Martinez, I urge you to promote New Mexico as a model to the nation and listen to the stories of US military veterans who swear on their honor that it has saved their lives. Please don’t turn your back on our walking wounded.”

The Campaign is standing up to protect the legal rights of veterans to access safe medicine. They are asking for all compassionate New Mexicans to join them in telling lawmakers, medical professionals, and employers to protect the rights of military veterans seeking relief from medical marijuana. New Mexico's military veterans deserve the freedom to choose the safest treatment for their disabling conditions. When they come home, they deserve access to the medicine that works for them.

See more at: www.donttakeawaymymedicine.org

Contact: Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Jessica Gelay 505-573-4422

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