Looking to expand one of the strictest medical marijuana programs in the nation, Minnesota has now legalized treatment for PTSD as the state continues to look for new ways to apply the benefits of cannabis to the most in need. Even though medical cannabis is still in an early stage when it comes to treating PTSD, insiders are optimistic that the expansion will directly assist suffering Minnesotans who have struggled to find relief with more conventional forms of treatment. While cannabis treatment for PTSD remains complicated, particularly for military veterans due to stringent federal laws, Minnesota could also prove to be a valuable case study on how other states can expand coverage to attack a widespread problem throughout the country.
Although anti-cannabis advocates insist there is still a lack of evidence for successful PTSD treatment, Minnesota moved forward with the change to the medical cannabis program thanks to rigorous input from both field experts and the public. The move will also be able to directly test cannabis’ effectiveness with those who suffer from PTSD, potentially offering significant insight into a relatively dark area of marijuana research. In fact, it was only in April of 2016 that the DEA introduced its first controlled study of cannabis treatment for PTSD sufferers, pointing to the necessity of further study for vulnerable Americans. Despite effecting about eight million people in the U.S. each year, post traumatic stress disorder still doesn’t have a pharmaceutical treatment that is designed specifically to treat the often-debilitating symptoms.
Medical Cannabis for PTSD
Minnesota will now join more than 20 other states that have already legalized cannabis treatment for PTSD, further providing real-life case studies for an area that has often been driven by speculation. Just this year, a growing and diverse list of states have added PTSD to their medical marijuana programs, including states like Ohio, Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota, New Jersey, and more. In addition to directly addressing PTSD symptoms, medical experts are also enthused about the ability to use the benefits of medical marijuana to assist with negative symptoms from other medications typically used to treat PTSD.
It’s also worth noting that Minnesota is easily one of the strictest states in the country when it comes to usage of medical marijuana, as the program only started in 2014 and has expanded very deliberately since then. As of now, Minnesota only has two different licensed medical marijuana cultivators and has significant limitations on the forms that cannabis can be ingested, which is why the recent change could turn out to be such a crucial development for cannabis advocates. If very cautious states like Minnesota can have success with treating PTSD, other hesitant states will have an ideal blueprint of how to proceed into previously unchartered territory.
Following the successful push for PTSD treatments, advocates are also looking to expand treatments for other patients in need. Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and autism are some of the other diseases and disorders that are being pushed as areas where patients might benefit, opening up the door to further expansions both in Minnesota and abroad. As of now, there is a fairly limited number of patients registered to take advantage of the expansion in the state, although that could quickly shift as the program grows in the coming years.
But even though Minnesota’s medical cannabis expansion could prove to be a major step forward for patients with PTSD, it also highlights one of the major conflicts between state and federal law. As states continue to explore legalization for recreational use, those relying on marijuana for medical application could be left out in the cold due to overriding federal law – particularly for veterans who suffer from PTSD. Because of federal law, cannabis treatment for PTSD cannot be covered by the VA (Veterans Affairs), forcing patients to pay completely out-of-pocket or forgo treatment. However, as cannabis programs continue to expand to cover PTSD around the country, the pressure will likely build to overhaul federal marijuana laws that are now widely viewed as outdated and counterproductive.
Over the past several years, many states have campaigned to have cannabis legalized. In some states, this legalization has passed without issue. In other states, however, many voters are still fighting the change. Even many police offers are in favor of cannabis legalization. These five reasons police want cannabis legalized may help shape your opinion.
1. The Black Market is Dangerous
Cannabis itself doesn’t have nearly as many dangerous effects as many of the drugs currently available in the black market. When it’s purchased through legitimate sources, cannabis offers a safe experience that will keep its users from experiencing most of the worst side effects of traditional drugs. On the black market, however, cannabis can be mixed with a variety of other drugs–many of which aren’t disclosed to buyers before they use it.
2. The “War on Pot” Isn’t Helping the Public
Police officers have plenty of dangerous crimes to deal with on a daily basis. They deal with dangerous individuals every day–and cannabis users simply aren’t. Instead of devoting that time and money to removing cannabis from the streets, police offers prefer to focus their efforts on genuine crimes that have the potential to significantly impact other people. When their efforts are focused on catching people with a low-impact drug, officers aren’t able to spend the effort they need to on bigger crimes.
3. Communities Want Legalization
Many officers are devoted to their communities and the people who live in them. They want to have great relationships with the populations they serve. Going after individuals who choose to use marijuana, however, destroys those relationships and leads to a lack of trust. Every time an officer arrests someone for cannabis possession, they’re creating a negative interaction that has the potential to destroy their relationship with other members of that community. Not only that, officers who are clearly in favor of legalization of cannabis will be able to boost their relationships with those members of their communities.
4. Police Practices Deteriorate with Marijuana Arrests
In many cases, arrests for possession of cannabis, turning in drugs to the office, and other practices associated with marijuana arrests lead to illegal or unethical police practices. Many departments have discovered that the best way to increase marijuana arrests is to offer incentives. Unfortunately, those incentives also encourage officers to engage in unethical or illegal practices like informants who admit to lying, bringing in SWAT teams to take care of marijuana arrests, and even illegal searches. Many departments are pressured to make drug arrests, reducing the numbers of dealers and users on the streets–and as a result, officers find themselves going to extreme lengths to capture individuals who would not be engaging in illegal behavior, were cannabis legalized.
5. Cops Want Kids to Be Safe
Cracking down on marijuana use, unfortunately, has little impact on whether or not people are going to use marijuana. Legalizing it, however, would create better controls over who was able to purchase marijuana–not to mention instituting quality control that would prevent kids from getting their hands on marijuana laced with other materials. By legalizing cannabis, most states will add age restrictions that will make it increasingly difficult for kids to get their hands on it–and in the process, keep them safer.
Cannabis use has been hotly debated across many states over the past several years. Some states have chosen to legalize; others are still pushing against it. Many police officers, however, are falling down heavily on the side of legalization–and with good reason. In states where cannabis use has been legalized, police departments are able to use their resources for crimes that really matter. Not only that, legalization initiates higher levels of control over cannabis and keeps tainted marijuana from making its way onto the street–a vital step in keeping high school students safer.
While the United States continues to mainstream cannabis from state to state, marijuana reform has also taken hold all over the world, with many different countries starting the process of rewriting archaic cannabis laws. One country that is now well ahead of the curve is Uruguay, which just became the very first country in the world to fully regulate the cannabis industry. Following a landmark bill in 2013 and a cautious implementation, certified Uruguayan pharmacies can now sell cannabis directly to adults with the full backing of the law, with prices expected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $6.5 per five grams.
Not long after Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, Uruguay was able to hobble together an impressive alliance that helped back the bill to legalize marijuana throughout the country. Although the bill was contentious, the group made up of human rights organizations, medical professionals, lawyers and prominent actors was able to win enough public support to help usher the bill through, effectively bringing marijuana out of the shadows throughout the country.
The Retail Market
In the years after the monumental move, however, the implementation has been slow and deliberate, as lawmakers have carefully pieced together an intricate program based on fairly strict regulation. Utilizing fingerprint technology, the government is allowing sales to anyone over 18 as long as they register with the government. While only an estimated 5,000 Uruguayans registered at the time that the announcement was made in mid-July, the numbers are expected to grow substantially as cannabis begins to hit shelves all over the country. The major step forward also fits a wide-spanning trend in Latin America, as popular opinion throughout the diverse region has started to get more favorable in recent years. In addition to Uruguay, both Mexico and Chile have shown clear majority support for legalized marijuana, marking significant shifts from prior public opinion.
But even though the breakthrough for cannabis in Uruguay is certainly significant, it also is unlikely to serve as much of a blueprint for states moving towards legalization in the United States. Aiming specifically to avoid becoming known as a cannabis tourist destination, Uruguay is allowing two different strains to be purchased by registered citizens only and shows no signs of letting cannabis blossom into a major industry. On the opposite side of the spectrum, states like Colorado have become widely known as cannabis tourist hot spots and recently unveiled more than $500 million in tax revenue already. At this point, it’s improbable that a state would adopt similar regulations as Uruguay, although the symbolic implications could still be profound throughout the world as attitudes on cannabis continue to shift.
Where Uruguay could have similarity to cannabis legalization in the United States is actually outside of the traditional shops. Although what citizens are allowed to buy directly from a regular store will be tightly controlled, there appears to be significantly more wiggle room elsewhere, as registered adults can now grow up to six plants or join cannabis clubs of 45 members or less. So even if Uruguay will keep the lid on what you can actually purchase from one of the country’s 16 pharmacies, cannabis is now extremely easy to access throughout the country for citizens.
More than anything, the legalization and regulation of marijuana in Uruguay shows that the process – difficult as it might be – is doable on a large scale, further aiding cannabis advocates ready to move forward in other parts of the world. Although every country (or state) will have a variety of different considerations for how to best regulate marijuana, pioneering countries like Uruguay offer an outline on how to proceed into the unchartered territory of a complex issue. As the above-board cannabis industry begins to take shape in Uruguay and other countries like Canada, the domino effect of legalizing cannabis appears to be accelerating.
Furthering the mounting evidence that attitudes surrounding marijuana are shifting, a recent Survey USA poll found that two out of three Americans want the Trump Administration to support state cannabis laws as states continue to eye the 2018 elections as a battleground for legalization. Despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ very public disapproval of cannabis, the momentum for ending the prohibition of cannabis seems to be gaining strength, putting President Trump in an awkward position as states look to keep the federal government out of cannabis enforcement.
During the Obama years, the former president found himself in an unusual role for a Democratic president: supporting state’s rights over federal oversight when it came to marijuana. As the public debate about cannabis changed during Obama’s years in office, he put in place guidelines, known as the Cole Memorandum, that would keep federal prosecutors from pursuing cannabis cases, opening the door for states to shape their own policies. With findings from Survey USA as well as another poll from Quinnipiac, the momentum surrounding cannabis legalization appears to have carried into the Trump era.
What’s the Trump Administration’s stance?
The new administration brings about significant complications despite the very clear opinion of Americans on the issue, with much of the complexity coming courtesy of Attorney General Sessions. Not only has Sessions said that he will push back against changes in cannabis law but he has even asked congress to allow him to undercut some of the protections against prosecution put into play by Obama. Although it was denied by congress, this would have allowed Sessions to specifically target medical marijuana providers despite state law and the Obama-era precedent.
Even with Sessions’ vehement opposition to state law, however, the trends outlined by Survey USA are very clear – even with age groups and demographics that overwhelmingly voted for Trump. When asked whether states should enact their own cannabis laws, 72% of those 65 and older said that they should while support peaked at 80% for those between 18 and 49. As for prosecuting cannabis consumers in states that allow it, only 12% of respondents thought this was a good idea, kneecapping the possibility of a public mandate for Sessions’ attempt at stringent cannabis enforcement.
What’s the stance of the American People?
Perhaps sensing the public sentiment on the issue, President Trump himself has been reluctant to publicly support Sessions’ point of view even while signaling the possibility of greater enforcement. Part of the hesitance to back his attorney general on cannabis enforcement seems to stem from Trump’s own words on the campaign trail, as he once stated that “I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.” This support for state’s rights on cannabis enforcement has inevitably prompted marijuana advocates to cite Trump’s own words against his administration, including California’s Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom.
While Sessions looks to undermine the public opinion and current state laws, states are getting even more aggressive when it comes to pursuing their own marijuana laws leading up to the 2018 mid-term elections. Even deep red states like Utah and Oklahoma are set to put medical marijuana legalization on the ballot in 2018 while states like Florida, Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri and Nebraska – all states Trump won – are expected to vote on full legalization for recreational purposes during the next election cycle.
Although finding bipartisan support for any issue has proven difficult in the current political mood, a variety of recent surveys suggest that cannabis advocates are poised for a major breakthrough on the state level. While both red and blue states are pursuing approval of cannabis for both recreational purposes and medical use, federal lawmakers still in favor of the cannabis prohibition are finding their viewpoints increasingly estranged from popular opinion. Although it will likely still take time to fully change federal law when it comes to cannabis, even cannabis’ fiercest critics are struggling to find any public support for interfering with state laws.
In June after several attempts, the Florida legislature successfully passed a medicinal cannabis bill that Florida Governor Rick Scott signed, SB 8-A, which expands the state’s medical cannabis treatment program.
Governor Scott said,
“The constitutional amendment was passed overwhelmingly, and I’m glad the House and Senate were able to come together for a bill that makes sense for our state.”
It is important for medical cannabis patients in Florida to fully understand the changes in Amendment 2 and be able to review who is eligible for cannabis treatments and how to access them. (Read the new bill, SB 8-A, here, which identifies the changes in the new legislation.)
What Amendment 2 allows
Amendment 2 expands the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes in three ways and creates new research opportunities:
- It allows for the establishment of ten additional medical cannabis growers by October 3rd, beyond the seven that had been permitted;
- The list of qualifying diseases and conditions has been expanded;
- While the initial allowable number of dispensaries per grower is limited to 25, that number will expand as the registry list of patients grows; and,
- Further, the bill encumbers millions of dollars for new research funding in the area of cannabis for medicinal purposes. The new research funds will be awarded to the Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center.
The new bill also eliminates a “waiting period” by striking the former requirement that a patient be seen by a certified doctor for 90 days prior to the doctor’s issuing a certificate for treatment.
Prohibitions in Amendment 2
Amendment is not all about expansion, however. It removes any legal permission to smoke cannabis as a medicinal treatment—a controversial stipulation that likely will be challenged in the courts. A key proviso is that municipalities may opt to ban dispensaries within their town limits.
Who is eligible for medical cannabis treatment in Florida?
Qualified patients with most debilitating diseases may opt to receive cannabis treatments. The decision as to which patient qualifies under the state law is made by a certified doctor who has undergone a two-hour course and related test. The exception is a medical doctor who has determined that a patient has a terminal condition.
Here is how the new law defines a qualified patient:
“Qualified patient’ means a resident of this state who has been added to the medical marijuana use registry by a qualified physician to receive marijuana or a marijuana delivery device for a medical use and who has a qualified patient identification card.”
The process is that certified doctors initially determine that no other doctor is working with the patient on accessing medical marijuana treatments. The doctor then adds that patient to the state’s medical cannabis registry. Qualified patients then receive a state-issued ID from the registry which allows the patient to access treatment.
The text of the new law offers a list online of qualifying diseases—from the expected ones such as cancer, AIDS, or any terminal condition to perhaps more surprising covered conditions such as PTSD, being HIV-positive, epilepsy, and glaucoma.
Following are the qualifying conditions as listed in SB 8-A:
- Positive status for human immunodeficiency virus
- Acquired immune deficiency syndrome
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Crohn’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated
- A terminal condition diagnosed by a physician other than the qualified physician issuing the physician certification
- Chronic nonmalignant pain
Once a patient has a state-issued registry card, how do they legally access treatments? Oil infusions, vaping, pills, and edibles (which are defined in the law as “commercially produced food items made with marijuana oil, but no other form of marijuana, that are produced and dispensed by a medical marijuana treatment center”) remain permissible under the newly expanded Florida law. Only patients using low-THC cannabis may use their treatments in public with the exception of school grounds.