Lead photo via Wikimedia Commons
In the midst of the Big Apple’s annual Veterans Day parade down Fifth Avenue, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he had signed legislation granting medical marijuana access for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), making the Empire State the 27th out of 29 states with medical marijuana provisions to allow the all-natural medication to patients suffering from the widespread psychological condition.
According to New York Public Radio station WBFO, Gov. Cuomo told a crowd at the city’s annual parade Saturday that he believes cannabis can help upwards of 19,000 New Yorkers who have been diagnosed with PTSD, including not only soldiers returning from combat, but police officers, survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence, and other life-altering traumas.
"Marijuana will be legalized if a doctor authorizes and finds the condition of PTSD for a veteran," Cuomo told the crowd gathered in Manhattan. "I think that can help thousands of veterans. It's something that we've been talking about for a long time and I'm glad we're taking action today."
Since dispensary sales started at the beginning of 2016, New York’s still-fledgling medical marijuana program has had its fair share of problems, with high prices, a smokeable cannabis ban, and limited product selection at the state’s few dispensaries sending a number of qualified patients back to the black market. By adding PTSD to the state’s list of qualifying conditions, Cuomo is taking a step in the right direction.
"This will help ensure that more of those suffering are eligible to become certified medical cannabis patients, and will allow each doctor to treat their patients as they see fit," said State Senator Diane Savino, who authored the PTSD medical marijuana legislation, in a statement following Cuomo’s announcement.
Across the nation, a number of this weekend’s Veterans Day observances were marked by actions in support of increasing medical marijuana access for America’s heroes.
According to a report from the University of Florida student newspaper the Alligator, a group of Sunshine State veterans used the military-focused holiday to bring a casket full of prescription pill bottles to a local Veterans Affairs hospital, protesting the federal agency’s continued dismissal of medical cannabis and reliance on deadly pharmaceutical painkillers.
“I was on every pill they could prescribe me, all it did was zombify me or constipate me,” said U.S. Navy veteran Gabriel George, who participated in the Florida protest, to the Alligator. “I’m here now, I’m alive because I’m a medical marijuana user.”
In an interview with MERRY JANE last week, Sean Kiernan, the president of veterans cannabis advocacy group Weed for Warriors, described just how important access to marijuana is for veterans, especially in the face of the alternative - the same prescription pills currently causing America’s worst national addiction and overdose crisis in history.
“We’re losing not only 41 vets a day — if you include drug overdoses along with suicide — we’re now losing over 120,000 Americans to both overdosing and suicide this year. That’s 330 Americans a day,” Kiernan told MERRY JANE. “When you have an alternative to the chief culprit in our suicide and overdose epidemics — the opioids — and the anti-psychotics and other medicines that have suicidal inclinations, it’s because they’re using these drugs to a high degree. You ask what cannabis does? It’s a substitute for the meds that Western medicine wants us on. I think that’s the biggest issue as to why prohibition is going to be so hard to overcome.”
But while the Governor’s decision to increase medical marijuana access in New York is certainly a move towards progress, the Department of Veterans Affairs still does not recognize medical marijuana as a viable treatment to PTSD, meaning soldiers from New York to California will still have to pay out of their own pockets to treat themselves; a problem that Kiernan says is only exacerbating the already difficult life of returning soldiers.
“Most of these vets are taken out of poverty,” Kiernan told MERRY JANE. “We have this system, the volunteer army, that incentivizes people to join who have the least economic options. When they get out [of service], not much changes.”