Sean Worsley served his country in war-ravaged Iraq by clearing roadside explosives. He returned home with a purple medal bearing George Washington’s face, and a lifetime of pain stemming from the post-traumatic stress disorder, and the traumatic brain injury he acquired while overseas. Now Sean feels that he’s “being thrown away by a country he went and served for.”
The Cost Of Listening To Loud Music While Black In Alabama
In August of 2016, Sean and his wife Eboni were taking a road trip to visit both of their parents. They had stopped first in Mississippi where Eboni’s family resided and were on the way to North Carolina to surprise Sean’s grandmother. Her home had been destroyed in a recent hurricane, and Sean was hoping to help her rebuild. The couple pulled over at a gas station in Gordo, Alabama to refill their tank, when the Worsley’s worst nightmare became a reality.
Officer Carl Abramo confronted Sean and Eboni, telling them that the music coming from their car was too loud, and it violated the town’s noise ordinances. During this time, Officer Abramo stated that he smelled marijuana, and asked the Worsleys about the odor.
Sean, a medical marijuana patient, thought he had nothing to hide. He explained to Officer Abramo that he was a veteran of the Iraq war, and used medical marijuana to treat the injuries he sustained during his time in the service. Sean’s words fell on deaf ears, as Abramo arrested both Sean and Eboni. According to a study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, African Americans in Alabama were four times more likely to be charged with marijuana possession than whites in 2016—the year that the Worsleys were arrested.
It took six days in an Alabama jail until Sean and Eboni were able to be released on bond. When they returned home to Arizona, they were unable to maintain their housing due to the charges, forcing the couple to relocate to Nevada. A year later, an Alabama judge revoked all bonds on the cases he managed, prompting the Worsleys to return to the Heart of Dixie. There, despite the fact that the VA had determined Sean was totally disabled and in need of a caregiver/legal guardian, the two were locked in separate rooms. Sean was threatened with the incarceration of Eboni if he did not sign a plea deal. He was backed into a corner with no other way out. He felt he had no choice but to capitulate and sign the agreement.
The plea agreement resulted in thousands of dollars worth of fines, mandatory drug treatment, and 60 months of probation—probation which transferred to Arizona because that is where Sean lived during the time of the initial arrest.
What followed was a series of bureaucratic quagmires that resulted in the Worsleys falling in and out of homelessness, and rendered Sean incapable of complying with the terms of his probation.
Earlier this year, Sean was pulled over by Arizona police. He was in possession of marijuana, and he had been unable to afford the costs of renewing his medical marijuana card. Arizona police extradited Sean back to Alabama at the cost of $4,345, which the state passed onto Sean in addition to the $3,833.40 he already owed in fines and court costs. On April 28th, an Alabama court sentenced Sean to five years in prison.
How To Help
The Alabama prison system is notoriously violent, with the highest homicide rate in the country. Sean is leaving behind two young children. The Worsleys desperately need money to pay for the attorney fees, fines, and court costs that are required to fight for Sean’s freedom. As of now, the Gofundme set up by Eboni has raised more than $90,000, but every cent helps combat this injustice. You can also sign the Change.org petition.
This week Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) introduced a bill that would help recovering vets access medical marijuana through the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. The bill, called ‘The Veterans Equal Access Act,’ would allow VA doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans with certain conditions.
Blumenaur expressed his concerns this week, saying, “We should be allowing these wounded warriors access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana, not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows.” Blumenaur stressed urgency in his statements, calling current drug policy antiquated.
The VA is the largest network of medical facilities in the country. Under federal control the VA is prohibited from prescribing medical marijuana to it’s patients, even to those who would qualify otherwise. With nearly half of states allowing some form of medical marijuana, this puts vets who depend solely on the VA for healthcare at a tremendous disadvantage.
The Veteran’s Administration has a dubious history of overprescribing and under-performing in the care of veterans. A recent study showed that almost 1 million veterans are receiving opiates for chronic pain and nearly half of those vets continue taking the medication beyond 90 days.
Additionally, The Center for Investigative Reporting found that the death rate from opiate overdoses among veterans is nearly double the national average. All the while, states with medical marijuana programs have shown a 25 percent decrease in the number of deaths caused by painkillers between 1999 and 2010.
If numbers could talk, these figures would say that we are doing a disservice to our veterans and aren’t using all of the tools available to help war-torn service-members. Blumenaur’s statement reflected this sentiment, saying, “In states where patients can legally access medical marijuana for painful conditions, often as a less-addictive alternative, the hands of VA physicians should not be tied.”
The efficacy of medical marijuana for many conditions has been substantiated by scientific evidence, and now, 23 states have recognized the plant’s potential. Though it hasn’t yet been tested on PTSD, a 2015 study will break ground on the use of cannabis to treat returning vets.
The neglect of veterans is one of the most shameful acts that our federal government can make. Blumenauer seems to agree, saying, “It pushes both doctors and their patients toward drugs that are potentially more harmful and more addictive. It’s insane, and it has to stop.”
Since at least the Vietnam War, veterans of the United States military have claimed that marijuana helps to control and treat symptoms of post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD). Now, veterans of the more recent wars are confirming the same, and requesting that medical marijuana treatment options be included in veteran benefits. One veteran in particular, Amy Rising (pictured above), shared her story with the Washington Post to raise awareness for her cause.
According to Amy Rising, four years of working in a supportive role for coordinating bombings and more in Iraq and Afghanistan have left her with constant feelings of severe anxiety. She explained in the interview with Washington Post how she developed PTSD without being on the ground, “What was really hard about working in command was never being able to see the damage you did on the ground. You start to think about all the orphans and widows you created, and that you do hit civilians.”
The only thing she says helps to control her symptoms is cannabis. Unfortunately, cannabis is not recognized as a viable treatment option by Veterans Affairs hospitals, so she is forced to obtain her medicine on the black market. Amy is publicly joining the push from veterans to receive medical marijuana treatment options from her veteran benefits. Rising described her feelings of anxiety with a great comparison, “like the Incredible Hulk and that danger is around every corner and that my nerves could explode.”
In order to create space for medical marijuana treatment options in veteran benefits, the plant will have to be reschedule from the current Schedule I classification. VA hospitals are not permitted to prescribe or provide marijuana, even in states where the plant is legal for medical use, because it is scheduled as having no medical uses by the federal government, and veterans are technically federal employees.
“It’s not about getting stoned. It’s about getting help. The VA doesn’t have any problem giving us addictive pharmaceutical drugs by the bagful.”
Post-traumatic-stress-disorder is not limited to military, but veterans do have increased chances of developing the disorder because PTSD may occur in any person after he or she experiences a terrifying, traumatic or life-threatening event. Sufferers are plagued with flashbacks, anxiety, shock, guilt, and often a combination of these symptoms and more. The particular symptom of anxiety is regulated by cannabinoid receptors in the brain. If a person’s body does not produce enough of the anxiety controlling cannabinoid, the anxiety symptoms worsen. Many of the cannabinoids produced naturally in the human body can also be found in marijuana, and when the plant is smoked, it may replace some of the cannabinoids the body is not producing enough of. This is why marijuana may help to control anxiety symptoms of PTSD. Cannabis has also shown positive results in the treatment of pain, another symptom from which many veterans suffer.
More scientific research needs to be done to explore exactly how and why marijuana treats PTSD. One company in Canada is waiting for approval to begin a study for this in 2015. The goal of this clinical trial aims to determine which strains prove to be best at treating which symptoms of PTSD.
photo credit: Kevin Cook for Washington Post
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