New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie signed a bill into law yesterday - Wednesday September 15th - that adds Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. It is a significant victory for the war veterans of the state, whose recent push alongside the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey has brought the change so many potential patients have been hoping for.
In a statement sent alongside the bill, Christie's support for PTSD's inclusion in the medical program is due to the horrifying statistic that an estimated 20 percent of veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts suffer from this debilitating illness.
The law's main caveat is “requiring conventional medical therapy to be ineffective" prior to a doctor being able to recommend cannabis; with Christie wanting to prevent "misuse" and directing NJ's DOH Commissioner to "provide clear objective criteria" for recommending marijuana.
Christie, who has previously been reluctant to expand New Jersey's medical program, wrote "The mere potential of abuse by some should not deter the state from taking action that may ease the daily struggles of veterans and others who legitimately suffer from PTSD".
Lawmakers praised the move - which gained momentum after an online petition - with lead sponsor and Senator Joseph Vitale saying "I am pleased that Gov. Christie agreed with our legislation that finally empowers doctors to treat veterans and other PTSD patients with this indisputably effective medicine".
The state Health Department has the authority to consider and add conditions to the list, which will now cover seven conditions:
- Multiple Sclerosis
- terminal Cancer
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (including Crohn's disease)
- any other terminal illness with less than a year's prognosis
"Veterans – especially post-9/11 veterans – are the group most affected by PTSD," Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). "The VA has stated that it wants each veteran to find the medication with the least amount of side effects that allows them the optimum level of independence. For many, medical marijuana is the drug that best fits that criteria and the only one to provide veterans with significant relief from the anxiety associated with PTSD".
Other conditions also qualify if - again - conventional medical methods have failed to treat ailments.
The change brings optimism for those who felt that Christie's hardline stance would prevent him from following the overwhelming anecdotal evidence that PTSD can be successfully managed and even treated with cannabis. It is also encouraging that such a conservative figure would look to the science - such as Dr. Sue Sisley's pioneering study - to vindicate the decision rather than make the decision for him.
16 states currently permit the use of marijuana to treat PTSD, but more veterans are increasingly using cannabis despite its illegality in most states and it not being an approved medicine by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Nurse and executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey, Ken Wolski, expressed his gratitude to the governor and lawmakers for heeding the veterans' request; saying "As many veterans testified during the hearings in Trenton, marijuana can help control the destructive symptoms of PTSD better than any drug".