A long-stalled University of Arizona study on marijuana’s effects on PTSD patients is one step closer to proceeding now that a state senator has lifted her objection.
Update: Following the original publication of this article, MintPress News was contacted by Robert Caputo, the treasurer of the Arizona Veteran’s Assistance Committee. According to Caputo, the chairman of the organization, Marc Victor, made an incorrect statement in regards to the AVAC. Per Caputo, the recall has not been cancelled and no deal has been reached with Arizona Sen. Kimberly Yee toward placing the medicinal marijuana study proposal on her committee’s agenda.
MintPress News will follow this story as it develops and will issue subsequent reports on the recall effort.
The proposal from the University of Arizona — backed by medical research advocate the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies — involves a 10-week study of the effects of medical marijuana on a group of 50 veterans with moderate to severe symptoms of PTSD. Until last month, however, researchers had been denied the ability to purchase the necessary marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Mississippi research farm — the only federally-approved marijuana-growing facility in the country.
With the Public Health Service — the U.S. Surgeon General-headed uniformed agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — giving its approval last month and the FDA approving the study in 2011, the proposal only needs to clear one final hurdle — the Drug Enforcement Administration — before the proposed research would finally have full federal approval. With the Department of Veterans Affairs stating that veterans will not lose their federal benefits for legally using medical marijuana, it seemed that the study was finally on track.
But in Arizona, the train for the first legal marijuana study in three decades stalled, if only temporarily. After the bill funding the study passed the Arizona House in a vote of 52-5, it was blocked in the state Senate, where state Sen. Kimberly Yee, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, refused to put the study on the committee’s agenda, effectively tabling it. Yee argued that the study represented a “back-door” attempt to push through marijuana legalization in Arizona.
“Because of my concerns about limited state funds, I received assurances from those supporting such research that funds would come from the federal government or private donations and that no state money would be used. Today, they have turned their story around and have broken their promise,” Yee said last week in a statement.
“As policymakers, we have to ask if this takes us down the path of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Arizona. The bill I proposed this year, SB 1389, using those same funds would educate our youth about the dangers of recreational marijuana and pay for public service announcements to prevent drug abuse.”
Yee may have also been responding to the news that Michigan has approved the use of medical marijuana to treat PTSD among veterans or that Maryland decriminalized marijuana possession of less than 10 grams. Regardless of the cause of her objection, her resistance gave rise to opposition not only among veterans groups and medical marijuana advocates, but among her fellow state Republicans, as well.
“Both myself and numerous community leaders have reached out to members of the senate regarding this bill, and Kimberly Yee is the only one who has not even returned my phone call,” Arizona Rep. Ethan Orr, the bill’s House sponsor, said in a statement last month. “It is unfortunate for the democratic process that one person has chosen to not hear the bill.”
On the threat of a recall push from the Arizona Veterans Assistance Committee, Yee has agreed to allow the proposal to be heard by her committee and to talk to members of the medical marijuana community about drafting legislation next term.
“Although it isn’t as good as I would want, it is a clear victory for our side,” Marc Victor, chairman of the Arizona Veterans Assistance Committee, said in an email to recall supporters. As part of the compromise, the recall will be cancelled. “Senator Yee will now support MMJ research. More importantly, she has moved from an enemy of medical marijuana to at least a moderate supporter.”
Due to marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug, an exemption from the state ban on the drug was needed for the study to proceed. Schedule I drugs are stated to be extremely addictive and dangerous to health and to have no medical value. However, advocates of medical marijuana argue that marijuana’s primary active chemicals — tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) — can reduce nausea, lower blood pressure and offer neuroprotection by reducing neuron firing activity. PTSD researchers believe that this neuroprotective effect of cannabis consumption can be used by victims of severe brain trauma to reduce emotional or psychological distress or confusion.
“There are a hundred scenarios in my head at any time and using cannabis quiets that, it allows me to go through my day being productive,” said PTSD patient and Iraq War veteran Ricardo Pereyda.