Pubdate: Sun, 06 Apr 2014
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2014 Star Advertiser
Author: Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Newspapers


Lobbying Has Grown to Grant Sufferers Legal Access to

WASHINGTON - After flying helicopters in Vietnam for 30 months, Perry
Parks couldn't stop the panicked dreams.

"I was flying through wires all the time, and I never hit the wire,"
said Parks, 71, a retired military commander from Rockingham, N.C.
"I'm a helicopter pilot, so wires scare the hell out of you."

Parks, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, said he took sleeping
pills for years after he retired. Then he found a more satisfying
alternative: two or three bong hits at least three times a day.

"I don't have the dreams anymore," he said.

Faced with a skyrocketing suicide rate in their ranks, many of the
nation's veterans hope that marijuana will be their salve. Federal
officials and veterans groups estimate that nearly 31 percent of
Vietnam veterans and 20 percent of returning service members from Iraq
and Afghanistan are grappling with PTSD.

Veterans such as Parks increasingly are taking their case to
statehouses and to Capitol Hill, where they plan to lobby members of
Congress on Monday.

They scored a win in March when federal officials ended a three-year
fight with a University of Arizona research team, agreeing to provide
government-grown pot from Mississippi for a PTSD study. Only days
before the study won approval, organizers had planned to mobilize
veterans for a protest in Washington.

"Truthfully, it's the activism from veterans all around this country
that's really moved this forward," said Suzanne Sisley, a clinical
assistant professor of internal medicine and psychiatry at the
University of Arizona's medical school. She'll lead the study, which
calls for giving 50 veterans the equivalent of two joints per day.

Sisley said veterans were helping to overcome opposition from those
who feared pot research because they thought it would lead to

"They think that marijuana research is going to prove that this drug
is safe and effective, and they don't want that," she said of
opponents to the research. "They don't want any of that data to ever
see the light of day."

Parks said he was diagnosed with PTSD in 2002, five years after first
seeing a psychiatrist who eventually told him he had all the symptoms.
In addition to dealing with nightmares and chronic back pain, he said
he was easily startled and would "jerk big time" at any noise.

"A lot of things like that, I just didn't understand," he said. "I'm
in excellent shape - that's what always bothered me: How can you be
disabled if you can ride on a Jet Ski?"

Parks may have found his relief, but he's violating federal and state
law. The federal government's official position is that marijuana, as
a Schedule I substance, has no medical value. And the North Carolina
Legislature most recently rejected medical marijuana in 2013.

While thousands of Americans go to jail each year for violating
marijuana laws, Parks is confident he won't get arrested.

"I'm a white, successful person; they don't mess with people like me,"
said Parks, a former president of the North Carolina Cannabis Patients

When an officer at the North Carolina Statehouse once complained that
he smelled pot upon Parks' arrival, Parks admitted that he had smoked
and suggested that he be arrested, figuring it would produce a good
public spectacle. Parks said the officer told him, "You're not going
to use law enforcement to further your efforts."

Reflecting on the incident later, Parks said it made him cry: "If I
had been black or young or an immigrant or a Mexican, I would have
been spread-eagle on the floor."

According to the advocacy group Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access,
it's legal to smoke marijuana for PTSD in 11 states. Twenty states
have passed medical marijuana laws, but some of them don't cover PTSD.

Al Byrne, a Navy veteran with PTSD who's a cofounder of a Virginia
nonprofit group called Patients Out of Time that promotes therapeutic
uses of marijuana, said the federal government faced "a conundrum"
after sending conflicting messages. Notably, he said, the Veterans
Affairs Department allows patients treated at its facilities to use
medical marijuana so long as it's legal in the states where they live.

"I call it medical treatment by geography: You can live in the wrong
ZIP code to get treatment from your government, even though you're a
veteran and you've been wounded," Byrne said.

In Washington state, Rick Rosio, a medical marijuana provider, said
the country needed to move on beyond the political debates.

He's aiming to sign up 100,000 veterans in a program he's developed
that he calls "compassionate care." It would help them gain access to
both marijuana and better job opportunities, he said.

Rosio said cannabis therapy could help many of the veterans reduce
their dependency on opiates.

"Politics should not be played with veterans' suffering," he said. 
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