By Briana Vannozzi
Gov. Chris Christie says he supported the bill because an estimated 20 percent of veterans returning home from war in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“For me it means in the state of New Jersey, veterans are valued,” said Army Veteran Specialist Leo Bridgewater Sr.
The law adds PTSD to a growing list of conditions that qualify patients for medical marijuana.
And as Sen. Nick Scutari — co-sponsor of the bill — points out, New Jersey is home to more than 400,000 vets.
“There has been studies that show that our veterans particularly, as well as other individuals that suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, could benefit from the use of medical marijuana so including it was a natural offshoot of the original medical marijuana program and I’m thrilled that he signed it,” Scutari said.
“The emergency of the suicide rate of veterans, just the fact that they are killing themselves as fast or faster than dying in combat, you don’t have to understand why, understand it’s a fact and what you can do about it and if the answer is everything possible you should start with cannabis not as a last resort,” said Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey Co-Founder Jim Miller.
But patients will first have to show their condition is resistant to other, traditional medical therapies like antidepressants and counseling. As the governor stipulated in the bill signing, that’s to prevent “misuse and abuse” of the substance.
Yet in his statement the governor said, “The mere potential for abuse by some should not deter the state from taking action that may ease the daily struggles of our veterans and others who legitimately suffer from PTSD.”
“Some studies show that antidepressants for example that are the typical treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder are only as effective as a placebo and they don’t treat the underlying issue whereas marijuana therapy can actually help to reverse the adverse memories,” said Registered Nurse Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey.
“It helps me focus, it helps me sleep, it helps me eat,” said Philippe Dume.
Symptoms of PTSD can include severe anxiety, suicidal thoughts, flashbacks and insomnia. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, about 7.7 million Americans suffer from it. Dume served in Iraq from 2007 to 2009 and lives with it daily.
“It is kind of sad that the veterans had to be the forefront because this bill is a bill we’ve been trying to push for going on two years now and last year it got denied. But when we started doing the veteran push and everything like that, all of a sudden, I don’t know because of the election, all of a sudden you know stuff is being done,” he said.
The Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey has been a leading lobbyist on the issue. The founders note that you don’t have to see combat to suffer from PTSD.
“When all else fails, this is what helps them and so that’s the most important part of that. So it’s really indisputable, the science and medicine in this,” said Sen. Joe Vitale.
Bill co-sponsor Vitale believes the governor’s signature means he may be open minded to further expansion. Right now six medical conditions qualified for medical cannabis.
Bridgewater believes the benefits could be long lasting.
“States that have an expansive medicinal marijuana program are now starting to see a significant drop in opioid abuse and addiction issues. As a matter of fact, doctors are prescribing it a lot less now,” he said.
The law takes effect immediately, though the Department of Health is now tasked with forming regulations to determine the criteria for use. Bill sponsors and advocates say they’ll be watching closely.