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.
Not one, but two medical marijuana initiatives are set to appear on the ballot this November in Mississippi.
Initiatives 65 and 65A would amend Mississippi’s state constitution to allow patients with certain qualifying conditions to access medical marijuana after having been approved by a licensed physician.
The process of getting these amendments on the ballot began in September 2019, when the Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign submitted 214,000 signatures collected from local Mississippians in support of the initiative. In order for an initiated constitutional amendment to make it to the ballot in The Magnolia State, sponsors are required to garner signatures equal to 12 percent of the total votes in the previous year’s gubernatorial race. For 2020, the number required was 86,185.
When voters show up to the polls in November, they will face a two-part question. First, they will be asked to vote for “either measure” if they support either initiative 65 or 65A, or “neither measure” if they want neither measure to pass.
Regardless of the answer to the first question, voters will then be asked which of the two initiatives they prefer. If the “either measure” gets the most votes, then the version of the initiative that received majority support will be enacted.
The Differences Between 65 and 65A
Initiative 65 contains much more specific language regarding the stipulations around who can use medical marijuana, and how much they can possess at a time, than its alternative 65A.
Under initiative 65 there are 22 specified conditions that could qualify a patient for access to medical marijuana including cancer, epilepsy, PTSD, HIV, and more. Patients would be allowed to possess 2.5 ounces at a time, and would be prohibited from smoking cannabis in public spaces. Medical marijuana sales would be taxed at the state’s current sales tax rate of 7 percent, and the costs of a medical marijuana patient ID card would be capped at $50.
In contrast, Initiative 65A makes no specifications for qualifying conditions, tax rates, possession limits, restricts medical marijuana usage only to “terminally ill patients,” and would require medical marijuana treatments to be overseen by a physician. Because of the vagueness of the language in 65A, many of these details would need to be decided by the state legislature. House Democrats have made the argument that 65A is “designed to confuse voters by placing a similar initiative on November’s ballot to dilute the vote to legalize medical marijuana. … The sole intention of HCR 39 [65A] is to mislead and confuse voters and kill a measure for which the majority of Mississippians are in favor.”
State Representative Joel Bomgar (R) has come out in support of the initiative saying, “legalizing medical marijuana just makes sense.”
Representative Bomgar is quoted saying:
“Almost everybody seems to know somebody who could have benefited from medical marijuana or who lives in another state and did benefit from medical marijuana. When you have almost everybody in Mississippi that knows somebody, has an experience, or knows someone in another state, it just starts to make no sense to anyone that 33 states allow medical marijuana and Mississippi is one of 17 that does not.”
Opposition to Initiative 65
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell is worried that legalized medical marijuana would make more work for the officers in his department. Ezell said, “The sheriff’s office now answers between 26 and 2,800 calls a month. You add marijuana to this mix and, you know the teenagers and young adults, they’re gonna get it. It’s just like we talked about earlier with the brownies and the gummies and all the things they bring back from Colorado. We’ve made a number of arrests since I’ve been in office.”
Member of the Mississippi State Department of Health’s board of directors, Edward Langton, doesn’t believe Initiative 65 is the right way to bring medical marijuana to his state and is skeptical of its proponents. “Wealthy millionaires are trying to establish a new industry, a cartel in Mississippi for marijuana. That’s basically what it boils down to. When people spend $3 million, you can’t say they woke up that morning to be compassionate and provide something medical for people, to make them better.” Langton said.
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.
The people being fired for using medical cannabis are the ones who need it the most.
After the Ocean City Fire Department in New Jersey initiated a cannabis drug testing policy, Brad Wiltshire was left choosing between his job and his health. Medical cannabis is legal in New Jersey, and it was recommended to him by his neurologist. Wiltshire was diagnosed with dystonia, a movement disorder that causes uncontrollable muscle spasms that result in intense pain.
Wiltshire has been a firefighter for 20 years, and was involved in 9/11 recovery, which by itself has caused a host of illnesses, associated with the debris and environment that emergency workers had to endure. By all accounts, he was an exemplary member of the team. He explained to his chief that he uses medical cannabis to treat his condition, knowing from experience that it does not affect his ability to do his job. But he was suspended. The best the chief could provide was paid sick leave with his accompanying medical benefits in tact. He’s now waiting for the city to determine his future as a firefighter.
“The emotional impact on me and my family — you’re almost going to make me tear up here — it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life. I have a disease, and it’s so fucking hard,” said Wiltshire. “It’s wrecked my family. We’re so close, but we’re so depressed. It’s such an unhappy house.”
Wiltshire is fighting the decision through a lawsuit against the city, which asks for his job back as well as the freedom to use medical cannabis when off-duty. The lawsuit specifies that denying him the use of medical cannabis is “in direct violation of the letter, spirit, and intent of the New Jersey Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act,” and he is requesting compensation as a result of the policy.
The majority of cannabis legislation, both recreational and medical, leaves the door open for employers to continue to drug test and terminate employment based on a positive result. While many white collar working environments choose not to have such policies, jobs that require heavy lifting, the operation of heavy machinery, emergency personnel, airline workers, and truck drivers are subject to drug testing, regardless of medical marijuana laws. While these policies are meant to ensure the safety of these employees and the people and property around them, they are more likely to suffer from ailments and injuries due to the physical aspect of their work. After a 1991 train crash that killed 16 people and injured 174 people, Congress made drug testing mandatory for “safety-sensitive” workers, after it was determined by the National Transportation and Safety Board that an engineer was using marijuana to the point of impairment.
Many of these employees are left to suffer or use prescription opioids, which are causing a public health crisis. According to the CDC, as many as one in four people who are prescribed opioid painkillers for chronic pain conditions develop addiction behaviors. Drug overdoses alone decreased the life expectancy of Americans for the first time in over 20 years.
If the concern is that medical marijuana will impair a person’s physical and mental abilities, then the alternative is just as dangerous.
Wiltshire was prescribed muscle relaxers that came with plenty of cautionary literature that advised against driving and operating heavy machinery. As with many tranquilizers, they lose effectiveness over time and are not a long-term solution. Wiltshire eventually switched to medical cannabis when his prescription drugs failed, and it proved to be a more effective treatment.
His case is not unique. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against Walmart in 2010 on behalf of an employee who was injured on the job. Joseph Casias was suffering from a brain tumor and cancer while working at Walmart, but his injury required that he undergo a drug test. “No one should have to choose between pain relief and gainful employment,” the ACLU wrote. “No employer should ever have to tolerate on-duty drug use or intoxication, but employees who legally use medical marijuana to treat the symptoms of painful and debilitating diseases should not be fired for doing so.” The lawsuit was unsuccessful, and similar cases tend to favor the employer.
While employers may want to accommodate medical cannabis during non-business hours, the issue of determining impairment has still evaded scientists. Devices similar to an alcohol breathalyzer are being developed to determine cannabis impairment, but they are still in the testing phase and not ready to be used in court. Instead, employers and law enforcement rely on blood tests. But cannabis can remain in the blood up to a month after the last date of consumption, which in no way determines impairment. In addition, medical marijuana users are more likely to develop a tolerance from ongoing cannabis use to treat chronic conditions.
But Ocean City officials may not be aware of cannabis tolerances, or what constitutes impairment for a regular medical cannabis patient. In response to Wiltshire’s suit, the city responded in a brief defending the fire department’s policy on medical cannabis. “Any argument that the lack of an incident during this period speaks to the Plaintiff’s ability to function while medicated is fallacious, like the argument that a drunk driver who has not been in a crash can safely drive,” the brief said.
After months of advocacy by patients and medical professionals, Colorado has now added post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to its list of qualifying conditions for the state’s medical cannabis program.
On Monday, governor John Hickenlooper made Senate Bill 17 official with his signature. In one week, patients suffering from PTSD can now be recommended medical cannabis with a physician’s authorization. Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the one week delay is simply to allow time for the department to update its medical forms.
The list of qualifying conditions has not been updated since 2001, when the state legalized medical cannabis, the reason being the absence of, “peer-reviewed published studies of randomized controlled trials or well-designed observational studies showing efficacy in humans,” according to previous comments made by officials. The list also includes AIDS, HIV, cachexia, cancer, persistent muscle spasms, seizures, severe nausea, and severe pain. Supporters of the bill included veterans as well as survivors of trauma and abuse.
Colorado’s list of qualifying conditions is rather perfunctory compared to other states, 23 of which already include PTSD in their medical cannabis programs. Multiple veterans organizations have been advocating nationwide for medical cannabis to treat PTSD. As a federal program, the Veteran’s Administration’s policy is to adhere to federal law, and therefore is subject to ongoing cannabis prohibition. As the majority of veterans utilize their VA healthcare benefits, medical cannabis treatments are not only prohibited but can potentially disqualify a veteran from future VA benefits if they use cannabis.
Although recreational cannabis is legal in Colorado, advocates insist that it’s cost-prohibitive for patients looking for ongoing, effective treatment. In addition, the kind of high CBD/low THC products are typically not available within the recreational market, as they do not provide the psychoactive high recreational cannabis customers are seeking.
Opponents of medical cannabis treatment for PTSD are still concerned about the lack of research supporting its effectiveness and the unknown effect it can have on a multi-faceted disorder. There was also the issue of providing PTSD patients under the age of 18 with medical cannabis, so an amendment was added that requires two physician recommendations, with one physician being a board-certified pediatrician or family physician, and another being a board-certified child psychiatrist familiar with the patient.
Even though peer-reviewed, published research is limited, there are promising studies currently in progress that are examining how medical cannabis affects PTSD symptoms. Dr. Sue Sisley is operating a DEA-supervised clinical trial that specifically studies veterans with PTSD. Other studies have examined how patients suffering from PTSD cope using a variety of medications, including medical cannabis. Although PTSD can be routinely diagnosed, there is no one single treatment that works on the majority of patients. In many cases, some form of cognitive behavioral therapy or psychotherapy is recommended alongside a prescription drug treatment.
The current selection of prescription drug therapies can leave patients feeling groggy, tired, and unable to participate in daily activities. For veterans who suffer from multiple conditions, including chronic pain and nerve damage, the combination of drugs that are prescribed can make the side effects even worse. Making medical cannabis available, especially to veterans, allows patients to take control of their treatment and provides an alternative to those who have not found relief elsewhere.