The Oregon Senate Health and Human Services committee on February 7 heard testimony on SB 281. The bill, according to its own summary, “Adds post-traumatic stress disorder to definition of ‘debilitating medical conditions’ for purposes of statutes authorizing medical use of marijuana.”
If the testimony at the hearing is any indication, it seems to have a reasonable chance!
Held in Hearing Room A of the State Capitol building, more than 25 people testified at the hearing. The committee is chaired by Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham), a retired public health nurse. Other senators were there, including Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg), a ardent opponent of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA), and Sen. Chip Shields (D-Portland), who indicated he supported the measure and would vote to send it on in the process.
The hearing room was not standing room only, as many had hoped, but it was packed with supporters and opponents were absent entirely.
The scheduled testimony was extensive and comprised of local attorneys and advocates, medical experts from Oregon and other states, and veterans who have benefited from marijuana. One highlight was testimony by phone from retired Harvard Dr. Lester Grinspoon, M.D., the original medical marijuana advocate in the 1970s.The first to testify was Todd Dalotto, President of Oregon’s Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana (ACMM) and founder and president of CAN! Research Education and Consulting. Dalotto spent a few minutes explaining to the committee why the current procedure to add qualifying conditions is broken, which is why SB 281 was introduced. It seems legislation is the only way to effectively add conditions to the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA). Senator Boquist introduced the bill at his request.
Attorney Lee Berger, of Compassionate Oregon, was the next to speak. He also reflected on the inadequacies of the current system. He covered Nurse Ed Glick’s petition from 2005, which never made any headway and eventually died after an unfair 2009 hearing. Berger pointed out that DHS changed the rules of the hearing the day before, and had the panel stacked with people openly hostile to cannabis.
“We have exhausted all other remedies other than a legislative solution, either in this building or through the initiative process,” Berger told the committee. “And this, today, is Nurse Glick’s opportunity for a full and fair hearing before neutral and fair decision makers.”
Attorney Brian Michaels followed Berger. He spoke eloquently about the validity of PTSD and the need for veterans with PTSD to have access to medical marijuana, and for all of us to support them.
“When we talk about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we may have differences of opinion, [but] when we talk about supporting the troops that went to fight on our behalf, there is little difference of opinion,” Michaels told the committee.
“You’re not adding a group of people who will use marijuana, because they’re going to use it anyway,” Michaels added. “What you are doing is you are subtracting a group of Oregonians, veterans, from the list of people who will have their doors broken down, their children stolen, their property seized, their family torn asunder, and maybe go to jail for taking this medicine.”After a background and the basics of problematic procedures in the system, the testimony moved to five medical professionals with experience in PTSD treatment with medical marijuana. Their testimony was compelling, and covered almost every aspect of PTSD and marijuana. They covered recent PTSD studies, safety factor of marijuana, currently accepted pharmaceutical drugs which are used and their side effects, suicide concerns, and much more!
The first doctor to testify was former Harvard professor Dr. Lester Grinspoon, M.D., the author of Marihuana Reconsidered from 1971. One of the first modern-day M.D.’s to recognize the therapeutic value of cannabis, he phoned in from Boston and provided insights gained from his experiences and studies of more than 40 years of research.
“It’s not only useful — very useful — for people with PTSD, but it is, among other things, the cheapest and the most effective medicine,” Grinspoon said. “I think it is a big mistake to deprive people who suffer from this distressing disorder a medicine which is very, very useful, remarkably non-toxic to them, and very inexpensive.”
Dr. Frank Lucido, M.D., a family practice doctor in Berkeley, California for more than 33 years, also testified by phone. Currently treating more than 100 patients with PTSD, he has a breadth of experience with the disorder. He told the committee how cannabis helps many suffering from PTSD, especially veterans.
“…In many cases cannabis is the one medicine that’s consistently helped their seriously disabling symptoms, allowing them to function, hold jobs, keep their relationships intact, raise families for the past 30 years or so, while years of therapy and numerous medications have not,” Dr. Lucido explained.
Some of the most compelling testimony came from Bryan Krumm, CNP, a psychiatric nurse practitioner in New Mexico and an author of New Mexico’s medical marijuana law. He offered riveting testimony about PTSD and cannabis.Tapping his experience with nearly 1,000 PTSD patients using medical cannabis at the Sage Neuroscience Center in Albuquerque, Krumm wrote a paper entitled “Cannabis and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, The Neurobiological Approach to Treatment”, which outlines the neurobiological processes for PTSD and the importance of our endocannabinoid system and its regulation of PTSD.
“Cannabis addresses the underlying neurobiological processes directly and alleviates core symptoms of PTSD with few clinically significant adverse effects,” Krumm told the committee.
A group of veterans came next, bringing further expertise and direct experience to the hearing in often emotional testimony.
Jose Garza testified and explained how combat-related PTSD had ruined his life until he was introduced to marijuana. He explained how he got into trouble with the law, had anger management issues, and couldn’t hold down a job. Now that he has medical marijuana, he can function in society.
“Slowly I could go back to the grocery store and not completely freak out. Now I’m able to go into a store and be OK. I’m not great, but I believe in myself now,” Garza explained. “The simple act of smoking a plant has changed my life.”
Sen. Monnes Anderson, who was moved by Garza’s remarks, replied, “Thank you so much for coming, thank you for your service, and I am very glad that you have been able to find something that will give you hope in life.”
The committee was lucky enough to have Michael Krawitz phone in from New Jersey. The Executive Director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, he was responsible for petitioning the Veterans Administration to allow veterans to use medical marijuana in states that have legalized its use. He focused on veterans who do not seek treatment for PTSD, due to the perception many have of the disorder and its exclusion from the acceptable ailments in Oregon.“…[PTSD diagnosis] creates a stigma that prevents people from seeking treatment,” Krawitz explained, “I’m hoping, and my colleagues are hoping, that your addition of post-traumatic stress to the Medical Marijuana Act out in Oregon will help reduce some of that stigma.”
Anthony Taylor, director of Compassionate Oregon, wrapped up the scheduled testimony. He was emotional as he explained the patients long term efforts to get PTSD added to the list of qualifying conditions.
“Its about implementing a simple fix for a group of our fellow Oregonians, and not just the veterans but for others who suffer from this disorder on a daily basis, sometimes minute to minute basis,” Taylor said. “The medical marijuana committee has been advocating its addition for over a decade as a treatment tool we should make available.”
Unscheduled testimony came at the end of the two-and-a-half-hour hearing and included more than 16 people, some with heartfelt stories of dealing with PTSD, a few Oregon activists, and many military veterans. Included were John Sajo of Voter Power, Mary Houck of Southern Oregon Cannabis Community Center, Jim Klahr from the ACMM, Anthony Johnson from the National Cannabis Coalition, Dan Koozer from Willamette NORML, and more. Many traveled a long way to testify.
A number of veterans also appeared, including a couple of Vietnam vets, and Seth Grant, a vet from Iraq. Grant gave heart wrenching testimony about how PTSD affected his life and how marijuana helps him with symptoms.The crowd support was enormous and the testimony was very compelling. No opposition was raised, even in the form of questions from Senators.
The next step is for the committee to give the bill a “Do Pass” recommendation which advances it for further consideration in a work session and other possible committee assignments. Hopefully, this bill will make it to the floor of the legislature and pass.
Marijuana is effective on PTSD, and the facts support it — let’s hope Salem does, too.
Another important step is to correct the flawed system which makes adding new conditions to the OMMA nearly impossible and under the control of just a few bureaucrats. We need a fair and reasonable system with decision makers that understand cannabis, instead of bureaucrats that don’t.
Editor’s note: Keith Mansur publishes Oregon Cannabis Connection, connecting the cannabis community across Oregon. This article is a sneak peek at a longer piece which will appear in the next issue of OCC.