New Hampshire: Legislature Moves To Add PTSD To Medical Marijuana List
By Steve Elliott
A bill introduced on Thursday in the New Hampshire Assembly would add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of ailments eligible for medical marijuana authorizations. Medicinal cannabis was legalized in New Hampshire in 2013, but remains hard to get.
The proposed legislation comes as New Hampshire struggles with opioid and heroin addiction and an overdose crisis, reports Wilson Dizard at Al Jazeera. Medical marijuana advocates argue that safe access to cannabis would offer an alternative to people now using harsh narcotic painkillers or heroin.
Additionally, adding PTSD to the list of illnesses for which cannabis can be authorized could provide another option to those who haven't found relief with Big Pharma's anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications, according to advocates.
There's strong backing for both medical and recreational marijuana in the state, according to a University of New Hampshire poll last year.
Joe Lachance, the Republican Assemblyman who co-sponsored the PTSD bill, is one of just 62 medical marijuana cardholders in a state of 1.6 million people. A military veteran and former police officer, Lachance said he suffers from chronic pain and PTSD, which only marijuana has helped relieve. He said cannabis had also helped him kick an opiate habit.
"I can tell you, yes, it does work," Lachance said. "We haven an opioid overdose crisis, and by allowing legal access to cannabis we could reduce overdose rates by 30 percent.
"You don't get addicted to marijuana," Lachance said. "But you get addicted to opioids physically."
Widespread dependence on painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone led the New Hampshire Medical Board last November to restrict how much of them physicians can prescribe. Lachance said that move prompted some pain pill addicts to switch to heroin.
There still isn't a single medical marijuana dispensary open in the state, almost three years after passage of the state's medicinal cannabis law, Lachance said.
Veterans are particularly susceptible to painkiller addiction and PTSD, according to Lachance. Some Big Pharma drugs meant to treat PTSD have side effects including impotence, and have been linked to suicide.
"Veterans are dying every day from PTSD," Lachance said, referencing the average of 22 veteran suicides every day. "If I could help one person, one kid, one soldier, one rape victim, then I'll have done my work."
But Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has put up obstacles, according to Lachance, who believes the Governor has "buyer's remorse" over signing the medical marijuana bill into law.
Until recently, the Governor's office wouldn't allow the issue of medical marijuana cards, claiming they shouldn't be available until dispensaries are open. But in December, a woman suffering from terminal cancer won a lawsuit against the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, forcing the agency to start issuing cards, reports Paul Feely at the Union Leader.
The medical marijuana ID cards allow for the legal possession of up to two ounces, about 56 grams, of marijuana. The state's first dispensary, Sanctuary ATC, will probably open by March, according to Lachance.
William Hinkle, a spokesman for Gov. Hassan, said the Governor understands "how debilitating PTSD can be for those who suffer from the condition," but that she believes marijuana isn't the answer.
"The most effective treatment for PTSD is to consult a mental health professional," Hinkle claimed. "Use of medical marijuana by those who suffer from PTSD can discourage them from seeking appropriate mental health care when experiencing symptoms, raising significant concerns about including the condition in the bipartisan legislation that the Governor signed.”
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