The medical marijuana system in Arizona allows for patients of a very few medical conditions to seek authorization from their doctor and the state to be treated with cannabis from one of the state’s 71 dispensaries. An untold number of applications are denied every year because medical conditions like depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder are not included on the “allowed” list. Advocates are hoping that will soon change.
A recent ruling from a Maricopa County judge sided with families of sick children, and countless others, when the judge determined Arizona medical marijuana law did authorize the use of oils derived from the plant, not only the plant itself.
This ruling was seen as a victory for patient advocates, as children especially can’t be expected to smoke cannabis. The liquid extracts, and specifically cannabidiol (CBD), are used to treat a variety of conditions and are said to be particularly effective in seizure disorders, bringing children over-medicated and nearly comatose from pharmaceuticals back within reach of “normalcy”. The state of Colorado estimates around 150 families have moved there to obtain CBD for their children. These families are being called “marijuana refugees”.
While Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery says he plans on asking the court to reconsider their ruling—as a staunch anti-marijuana advocate—others say the courts need to go even further.
In 2013, AZCentral.com reports, 41,000 medical marijuana cardholders purchased 2.7 tons of marijuana at state facilities. Among those, severe and chronic pain was the diagnosis for about nine out of 10 of those patients purchasing marijuana medicine. Many more with conditions like PTSD are unable to legally obtain marijuana, as the state has thus far been resistant to add any conditions to the authorized list.
The state Department of Health Services decides whether or not conditions get added to the program. Those decisions are based on public requests which are evaluated twice each year. The University of Arizona College of Public Health reviews medical literature related to the reqwuest and then forwards the data to a medical review committee. Ultimately, Department of Health Director Will Humble is the one who decides whether or not to add a condition.
This year, Humble has denied requests to add migraines, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
While a bill “sailed” through the Arizona House of Representatives allowing fees from medical marijuana purchases to go towards the research needed to vet such requests, it was blocked by Sen. Kimberly Yee because it also allowed for research on the value of marijuana as a treatment for PTSD.
Where there is a will, there is a way, however, and Suzanne Sisley of the University of Arizona recently came that much closer to getting authorization from the federal government to run such a study, authorization that is crucial. She was approved in 2011 by the FDA and received approval from the Public Health Service last month. Now, it’s up to the DEA, a sure-to-be hard sale.
It’s a long process, convincing the historically anti-marijuana government that marijuana has medicinal value. It’s a complicated fight. In the meantime, a very limited number of people in Arizona are authorized to take marijuana as a medicine; the rest face criminal charges if caught—no matter their health or condition.
Medical marijuana is widely supported by the public here, and polling even supports legalization for recreational use. But advocates for medical marijuana expansion still don’t have a strong voice in the legislature, and there are tough opponents as noted here, who still oppose any wider usage of medical cannabis.