Disabled Black Veteran Faces Five Years In Prison For Medical Marijuana

Disabled Black Veteran Faces Five Years In Prison For Medical Marijuana

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.

Sean and Eboni Worsley

The Aftermath

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.

Photo credit: Sean’s Gofundme; Change.org

Bipartisan Lawmakers Introduce Three Medical Marijuana Bills For Veterans

Bipartisan Lawmakers Introduce Three Medical Marijuana Bills For Veterans

A bipartisan team of lawmakers plans to introduce a package of bills aimed at reforming marijuana policies at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on Wednesday.

Just days after Veterans Day, Reps. Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) are filing three pieces of legislation that seek to cement the VA’s existing administrative policy of protecting patients who discuss their marijuana history, survey veterans on medical cannabis use and assist in education programs focusing on marijuana treatment at medical universities.

“Our veterans are seeking alternative options to opioids and we should be supporting their desires not to be addicted to painkillers,” Moulton said in a press release. “Let’s not kid ourselves, people are using marijuana—including our veterans.”

“We have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible. We also have an obligation to make sure our veterans are getting the best healthcare in the world. We have a long road ahead of us until medicinal cannabis is fully researched and legal but we can take a few steps now to start figuring that out.”

The bills are designed to do as follows, per the press release:

* The Department of Veterans Affairs Policy for Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018. This bill would amend and codify a medicinal cannabis policy the VA has but is not widely disbursed. As more veterans turn to medicinal cannabis to more effectively treat their various service- and non-service related injuries, the relationship with their healthcare providers is becoming ever more important. The VA has a policy protecting a veteran’s benefits if they discuss their medicinal cannabis use with their health care provider; however, not all healthcare providers respond in a standard way and veterans still fear and experience repercussions of some kind. This bill clarifies and codifies patients’ and healthcare providers’ roles and responsibilities in incorporating medicinal cannabis into a patient’s treatment plan and requires the policy to be prominently posted in all VA facilities

* The Department of Veterans Affairs Survey of Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018. This bill would have the VA conduct a nation-wide survey of all veterans and VA healthcare providers to learn about how veterans are using medicinal cannabis. From the American Legion’s survey on medicinal cannabis, “22 percent of veterans stated they are currently using cannabis to treat a medical condition and 40 percent of caregivers stated they know a veteran who is using medical cannabis to alleviate a medical condition.” With the growing use of medicinal cannabis among veterans, the VA needs a better understanding of what veterans are doing to self-medicate various conditions.

* The Department of Veterans Affairs Medicinal Cannabis Education Act of 2018. This bill would partner the VA with medical universities who have incorporated medicinal cannabis education into their curriculum to develop continuing education programs for primary healthcare providers.

“These issues can be a matter of life or death for our nation’s veterans,” NORML political director Justin Strekal said in the press release. “The uncertainty of VA policy when it comes to a veteran’s ability to have an honest conversation with their doctor has a deleterious effect on the doctor-patient relationship and dishonors the promise that America made to those who put on the uniform to protect our nation’s freedoms.”

While it is existing VA policy not to punish veterans or doctors for simply discussing medical cannabis, those protections could be revoked at any time by the secretary of veterans affairs. The new bill would cement the approach into federal lawbooks, although it would still not allow VA doctors to actually issue recommendations for medical marijuana in accordance with state laws.

You can read the full text of each new veterans marijuana bill below:

[scribd id=1 key=key-2UHsuPO4rc21iEls3znP mode=scroll]


See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Bipartisan Lawmakers Introduce Three Medical Marijuana Bills For Veterans

VA Will Explore Medical Marijuana, But Only If Federal Law Changes, Secretary Says

VA Will Explore Medical Marijuana, But Only If Federal Law Changes, Secretary Says

If marijuana is federally legalized, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will consider letting benefits go toward medical cannabis for veterans, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said on Friday. But until then, the issue is a non-starter.

Asked whether medical marijuana was among the alternative therapies the VA would explore for patients, Wilkie said flatly that cannabis “is against federal law.”

“If that changed, would you be OK with it?” a moderator at a National Press Club forum asked.

“If the laws change and there’s medical evidence there, of course we look at that,” Wilkie said. “But the law is pretty clear at the federal level.”

<iframe width=512 height=330 src=’www.c-span.org/video/standalone/?c4759979/va-secretary-medical-marijuana-coverage’ allowfullscreen=’allowfullscreen’ frameborder=0></iframe>

While there have been legislative attempts to force the VA to allow its doctors to recommend cannabis, none of those proposals have been enacted into law, and internal department policy currently prohibits such activities—even at facilities that operate in legal marijuana states. For now, the most VA doctors can do is discuss cannabis with patients, but they can’t fill out state forms to help veterans obtain it.

But if things do change at the federal level (and some insiders are under the impression that cannabis reform will soon be on the White House agenda), it looks like medical cannabis will at the very least get a second look from VA officials.


See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

VA Will Explore Medical Marijuana, But Only If Federal Law Changes, Secretary Says

First Marijuana Reform Bill Clears Congressional Committee

First Marijuana Reform Bill Clears Congressional Committee

Hundreds of marijuana reform bills have been filed in Congress in recent years, but none have ever been given a vote, until now.

In an historical first, a House committee approved cannabis law reform legislation on Tuesday. While legalization supporters have previously scored victories in the form of amendments attached to larger legislation, none of their standalone bills have ever advanced before.

Though the current proposal is fairly limited in scope — it would encourage the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct research on marijuana’s medical benefits — it comes at a time of unprecedented bipartisan support for cannabis reform and likely signals more action to come on Capitol Hill.

“The tide is turning on cannabis, and today’s vote is the latest example,” Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment. “We still have a long way to go, but we are one step closer to helping our veterans get the care they want and deserve. Now is our moment. Now is the time to redouble our efforts.”

Filed by Veterans’ Affairs Committee GOP Chairman Phil Roe of Tennessee and Congressman Tim Walz of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the committee, along with 52 other cosponsors, the bill would encourage the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to “conduct and support research relating to the efficacy and safety” of medical cannabis “on the health outcomes of covered veterans diagnosed with chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions.”

The committee approved the bill by a voice vote after a brief discussion.

Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) introduced a companion bill in the Senate on Monday.

Under the bill as introduced, VA research would be conducted on whole plant marijuana as well as extracts, and involve “at least three different strains of cannabis with significant variants in phenotypic traits and various ratios of tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol in chemical composition.”

Studies would examine “varying methods of cannabis delivery, including topical application, combustible and noncombustible inhalation, and ingestion.”

The legislation would require VA to preserve all data collected from the studies and issue a report to Congress within 180 days that includes a plan for implementation of research. The department would also have to send updates no less than annually for a period of five years.

Separately, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee called on VA to expand medical cannabis research on Tuesday. In the report attached to legislation to fund VA for Fiscal Year 2019, the panel wrote:

“Cannabis research.—The Committee recognizes that continued focus on the discovery of treatment alternatives for veterans diagnosed with various conditions such as chronic pain and PTSD are essential to reducing the number of veteran suicides. For this reason, the Committee urges VA to utilize funds, in an amount deemed appropriate by the Secretary, to prioritize investments in research on the efficacy and safety of cannabis usage among the veteran population for medicinal purposes. The Committee also requests a report, within 180 days after the enactment of this Act, by the Secretary containing a detailed plan on how the Department expects to pursue this research. The Committee also urges VA to ensure any research conducted or supported by VA on cannabis therapy is preserved in a manner that will facilitate further research.”

While VA is already allowed to participate in cannabis research under current law, its leadership has been reluctant. Former Sec. David Shulkin, for example, repeatedly claimed in public remarks that Congress needs to act before the department can refer veterans to cannabis studies.

Several veterans advocacy organizations submitted testimony in support of the research bill.

“While this bill is certainly modest in its immediate impact, we believe that it is a necessary first step toward building bipartisan support for broader cannabis reform legislation in Congress,” the Veterans Cannabis Coalition said in a statement. “Hundreds of thousands of veterans, like the millions of other Americans who have medicated with cannabis, have experienced profound and sustained relief or elimination of underlying conditions. Many of those conditions–prominently traumatic brain injuries (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and chronic pain–are poorly managed with current medication models, with health providers offering few or no alternatives to powerful pharmaceuticals like opioids, stimulants, and tranquilizers to patients.”

Legalization activists say that the research bill doesn’t go nearly far enough. They want Congress to force the VA to begin letting its doctors issue recommendations for military veterans in states where it is legal.

“The VA has been instrumental in cutting edge research to improve the lives of those who serve our country,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “With nearly 1 in 4 veterans reporting that they consume cannabis to alleviate their ailments, it is absolutely imperative that the VA reform their policies to both conduct research and allow VA doctors to recommend therapeutic cannabis when they see fit.”

Before approving the research bill, the Veterans Affairs Committee adopted an amendment that alters some of its reporting requirements and other provisions.

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

First Marijuana Reform Bill Clears Congressional Committee

First Marijuana Reform Bill Clears Congressional Committee

VA Admits It “Can Look At Marijuana As An Option For Treating Veterans”

Despite repeated claims to the contrary, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is now admitting that it “can look at marijuana as an option for treating Veterans.”

The stance, which comes in the form of new content uploaded to a VA webpage last week, contrasts with a letter that Veterans Affairs Sec. David Shulkin sent to members of Congress in December, less than two months ago.

“Federal law restricts VA’s ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana, or to refer veterans to such projects,” he claimed at the time.

There have been no changes to federal cannabis laws in the interim.

The VA Office of Research & Development’s webpage on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) now says that earlier research on medical cannabis “found limited evidence that marijuana use might alleviate neuropathic pain in some patients, and that it might reduce spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, but found insufficient evidence to assess the effects of marijuana on PTSD.”

“VA is not currently able to prescribe medical marijuana to Veterans,” it continues, “but can look at marijuana as an option for treating Veterans.”

A cached previous version of the same page doesn’t mention marijuana at all.

The update to the webpage comes as Shulkin and the department are under increasing pressure on medical cannabis and completely unrelated issues.

A group of members of Congress are pushing the VA to allow its physicians to recommend medical cannabis, or at least to refer veterans to studies on the drug’s potential.

And a VA inspector general’s report released last week found that Shulkin made “serious derelictions” that resulted in improper use of taxpayer money to cover portions of an overseas trip he and his wife took to Denmark and the UK last year.

The report, which included portions of Shulkin’s travel agenda, happened to reveal that on July 19 he met with British officials to discuss medical cannabis as part of the trip

Under an internal VA administrative directive, the department’s policy is that its “providers are prohibited from recommending, making referrals to or completing paperwork for Veteran participation in State marijuana programs.”

Shulkin has repeatedly tried to pass the buck to Congress when asked about the issue.

During a White House briefing last year, for example, he said that state medical cannabis laws may be providing “some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful, and we’re interested in looking at that and learning from that.” But he added that “until time the federal law changes, we are not able to be able to prescribe medical marijuana for conditions that may be helpful.”

The distinction between recommendation and prescription is an important one. No physician in the U.S. — government or private — can prescribe marijuana, because prescription is a federally-regulated process and cannabis currently falls under the Controlled Substances Act’s restrictive Schedule I, a category that is supposed to be reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no medical value.

That’s why the 29 states with medical cannabis access allow doctors to simply recommend the drug, circumventing the prescription process.

Shulkin has the unilateral authority to rescind the internal ban and clear the way for VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis to veterans in states where it is legal, but he has repeatedly claimed that federal law — without citing a particular statute — blocks him from doing so.

The secretary’s unwillingness to move on marijuana goes beyond just letting doctors who work for him recommend it. He has also thus far refused to help lift institutional roadblocks preventing the department from participating in scientific research on cannabis’s uses.

In an interview last year, he said that it is “not within our legal scope to study that in formal research programs.”

That position has led to recruitment issues for researchers conducting trials. For example, one such study on marijuana’s effects on PTSD has been prevented from reaching veterans at the Phoenix, Arizona VA hospital.

“This study needs 50 more participants and the Phoenix V.A. is in the best possible position to assist by simply allowing principle investigators to brief [VA] medical staff on the progress of the study, and by allowing clinicians to reveal the existence of the study to potential participants,” the American Legion, which represents more than 2.4 million military veterans, wrote to Shulkin in September. “Your immediate attention in this important matter is greatly appreciated. We ask for your direct involvement to ensure this critical research is fully enabled.”

And John Hudak, a researcher with the Brookings Institution said that despite Shulkin’s claims, “doctors and researchers at the VA or in VA hospitals could conduct research into the medical efficacy of marijuana while remaining completely compliant with federal laws, regulations, and the United States’ obligations under international agreements.”

In December, VA issued an updated policy offers physicians greater encouragement to discuss cannabis with their patients.

The new directive urges government doctors to “discuss with the Veteran marijuana use, due to its clinical relevance to patient care, and discuss marijuana use with any Veterans requesting information about marijuana.”

But it maintains the longstanding departmental ban on physician recommendations.

The new website language, however, and the revelation that Shulkin discussed the issue on his overseas trip, shows that VA’s opposition to cannabis is not necessarily set in stone, at least when it comes to research, though the implications aren’t immediately clear.

“No other arguments have worked in the past so this may be a breakthrough,” Sue Sisley, the researcher running the Arizona PTSD trial, told Marijuana Moment in an interview, referring to the webpage update. “VA can definitely be more helpful if they wanted to. There is nothing blocking them.”

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

VA Admits It “Can Look At Marijuana As An Option For Treating Veterans”

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