LANSING- The Director of Michigan's Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has signed off on allowing veterans and others suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to use medical marijuana, if approved by a doctor. This is the first new qualifying condition added to the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act since it was adopted by a voter directed initiative in 2008.
In a letter dated March 14, Director Steve Arwood wrote, "I put my trust in the medical professionals in Michigan to certify the use of medical marijuana for PTSD with the utmost care and attention to the patient seeking assistance."
On March 6, the Michigan Medical Marihuana Review Panel recommended PTSD for addition to the list of conditions qualifying a person to use medical marijuana. Adults must receive a doctor's recommendation before they can enter the program; children must secure recommendations from two physicians.
Read the letter from Director Arwood HERE.
That was the second time the Panel had issued a recommendation to add PTSD to the list. A previous panel of medical experts and advisers, convened by the MMA's administrative body, was disbanded and their conclusions discarded shortly after Arwood was appointed Director of LARA by Governor Snyder. The first Panel's composition was determined to not be in compliance with the rules.
A recommendation by the Panel is not enough to add a new condition to the list; the final approval currently rests with a non-medical person, the Director of the branch of government assigned to oversee the medical marijuana program. The Act was passed in 2008 and specifically directed that administration to the Department of Community Health; Governor Rick Snyder transferred the responsibility to Licensing and Regulatory Affairs after taking office in 2011. Arwood was in wind energy development from 1999-2011 andwas a deputy director at LARA until January 31, 2013.
In a coincidental move, the federal government has removed barriers for a first-ever study involving veterans, smoking marijuana and PTSD. The HHS last week approved a release of cannabis from the federal farm in Mississippi to supply the study in Arizona; DEA approval of the transfer is pending but expected.
Although Director Arwood signed the letter approving PTSD, he wrote that he is "very concerned" about adding the mental disorder- and about the process itself.
"The condition of PTSD is a mental health issue," Arwood wrote in the letter. "Granting this approval steps Michigan away from the use of marijuana for disease of the body or chronic pain symptoms of a physical nature." Arwood also urged veterans to consult their local VA before seeking a recommendation.
A move toward state sanction of a mental health condition could bode well for Michigan's patient population, many of whom find themselves in court proceedings despite being licensed and registered. "This should help in defending the doctor/patient relationship in cases where the relationship is more of a counseling relationship, rather than treatment," said criminal defense attorney Daniel Grow of Kalamazoo.
He then raised questions about pediatric use of medical cannabis, stating "there may be insufficient evidence on the effect of marijuana on minors." Should LARA contemplate removing or altering Michigan's pediatric use allowance they will find a strong contingent of legislators that would oppose the effort. Parents of Michigan's most ill children have been active in the legislature, lobbying and providing testimony for pro-marijuana bills like HB 4271 and HB 5104.
The most vocal and active parent's group lobbying in Lansing is Pediatric Cannabis Therapy. Jim Powers from that group said, "We are very disturbed by the comments the director made regarding medical marihuana use by minors. All of our children have received two doctors recommendations for the use of medical marihuana - these medical professionals have deemed that the potential risk of this medication is outweighed by the potential benefit. We feel LARA should focus their attention on the successful implementation of the voter initiated medical marihuana program and allow our childrens' doctors to decide what medication is appropriate."
Arwood also expressed reservations about making any further additions to the list of conditions. "Expansion of the statute should be in the hands of the legislature, not the Director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs," he wrote. "Further legalization efforts belong with our elected representatives." Any legislative change to the MMA would require the approval of 3/4 of both the House and the Senate- a cumbersome and time-consuming process that was never intended by the voters in 2008.
The acceptance of the new condition was widely praised in the medical marijuana community, as was the man most widely credited with making the recommendation happen- John Evans, a Michigan veteran.
Evans lobbied Lansing to get the first panel convened in 2012 and submitted compelling petitions outlining the effects of PTSD and how cannabis mitigates the effects.
"PTSD sufferers will undoubtedly benefit from this," said Jamie Lowell of 3rd Coast Compassion in Ypsilanti. He's also the Chairman of the Michigan chapter of Americans for Safe Access. "It is unfortunate that the process took so long to be functional."
Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide per CNN, and PTSD is a contributing factor in most of them. The rules mandating speedy consideration and adoption of petitions for the addition of new conditions were adopted in April of 2009. Arwood's letter comes almost five years later.
One of the patients who gave moving testimony at the Panel hearings was Constance C. Taylor, a non-veteran PTSD patient. "This is a big win for thousands of patients. Medical Marijuana helps my symptoms," Taylor said. "I hope that other PTSD patients can find the same relief that I have with Medical Marijuana."
Also deserving of credit in the approval of PTSD are Dr. Crocker and David Brogren. Both men have been involved in the panel process since it's first convening in 2012. Dr. Crocker is a Board Member of the Michigan chapter of NORML. Brogren was interviewed on the Planet Green Trees Internet radio show by attorney Michael Komorn and the on-air staff regarding the Panel, it's history and the PTSD vote. That broadcast can be heard by clicking HERE.
The National Patients Rights Association has lobbied for pro-marijuana laws in Michigan's legislature for several years. Their Legislative Chairwoman, Robin Schneider, expressed thanks to John Evans, the panel members and "the many brave Michigan citizens who suffer from PTSD who testified in support of the petition.
"This should serve as a reminder to all medical marijuana advocates that with hard work and dedication we can move forward."