Pubdate: Mon, 10 Oct 2016
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2016 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Jan Hefler
Page: B2


The day after Gov. Christie signed a bill allowing vets to use
marijuana for post-traumatic stress syndrome, he was greeted by cheers
- - and some boos - as he exited his black SUV and walked to the
entrance of the Trenton Statehouse.

In a video clip posted on Facebook last month, he was more stunned by
the group that was clapping.

Over the last two years, the group of five to 30 protesters would
occupy a spot near the door most Thursdays and deliver speeches about
the virtues of treating health problems with cannabis. They would set
up orange traffic cones as a nod to Bridgegate and the roadblocks they
said the Republican governor had created to keep the medical marijuana
program from growing. Christie had called the program a front for the
legalization of recreational marijuana and was against expanding it.

But on Sept. 15, about 10 protesters held up Thank You, Governor signs
and rushed over to shake Christie's hand. Some hugged him.

"The decisions you have to make, I know it ain't easy," Leo
Bridgewater, an Iraq War veteran from Trenton said to Christie in the

"You just do it, baby, I asked for it," Christie replied,
straight-faced and chomping on gum. Meanwhile, a separate group of
demonstrators across the street chanted "Shame on you" because
Christie opposes raising the minimum wage.

Christie told Bridgewater and another veteran in the group, "I hope
this helps."

But some vets who were not present that day said the celebration was
premature. Christie had attached a statement saying a major reason he
approved the bill was due to the high suicide rate among veterans with
PTSD. The governor also emphasized the vets would have to exhaust
conventional treatments before they can get cannabis and announced he
would direct the health commissioner to create new regulations to
prevent abuse.

Don Karpowich, an Air Force special operations vet with PTSD, said he
was angry when he read that. The implementation "could take another
year," he said shortly after the bill was approved. "I was so happy he
passed it, but then I read it and was so pissed off. He added layers
to delay it."

Three years ago, Christie's administration had rejected a petition
asking for PTSD to be added to the list of a dozen ailments that are
approved for cannabis use. He also waited several weeks before signing
the bill, which lawmakers overwhelmingly supported.

Karpowich, a Morristown resident who participated in the statehouse
protests and testified in favor of the bill, said he was diagnosed
with PTSD a few years ago. He said he was tormented by the memory of
finding the bodies of seven "brothers" from his team and 11 other
passengers in a C-130 plane that had crashed near Zaragoza, Spain,
during a mission about three decades ago.

"Christie is treating us like babies, saying we might abuse cannabis.
But it's OK for us to take drugs that we're prescribed and that turn
us into zombies?" Karpowich said.

Ken Wolski, executive director of Coalition for Medical Marijuana New
Jersey, said the PTSD law was supposed to go into effect "immediately"
upon signing. But for more than three weeks, questions swirled as to
how long it might take for Christie's administration to draft new
regulations. Some PTSD patients reported they had called their doctors
and were told the doctors were looking into it, he said.

Wolski said some vets were concerned the health department would hold
hearings that could drag on.

But Wolski was among those who shook Christie's hand after the bill
was approved. "He could have vetoed it and thrown the whole question
back. We were grateful that he did the right thing," Wolski said. The
new law is a victory for the coalition, which had been pressing
Christie for years to add a new ailment to the list, he said.

Of the 25 states with medical marijuana programs, 17 currently include
PTSD. Pennsylvania, which approved a program that is expected to be
implemented in 2018, is among them.

Wolski said that the New Jersey law is more stringent than others
because it requires veterans and others with PTSD to first use
conventional drugs before they can get cannabis. "Some of the
antidepressants recommended for PTSD have suicide warnings attached to
them," he said. "Why would they require these dangerous treatments?"
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MAP posted-by: Matt