New Mexico Patients and Veterans Fighting Employment Discrimination and Stigma from Medical Professionals that Create Barriers to Medical Marijuana

Press Release November 6, 2013
Media Contact

<p>Contact: Alex Curtas 702-301-7306 or Jessica Gelay 505-573-4422</p>

Albuquerque — After many returning veterans seeking to enroll in New Mexico’s medical marijuana program to combat symptoms of PTSD and other qualifying conditions began sharing stories of obstacles they encountered from doctors and employers, and unnecessary stigma from the community, advocates, fellow veterans and policy makers are teaming up to host a public summit launching a new campaign addressing New Mexico’s military veterans’ legal access to medical marijuana.

The Campaign is asking New Mexico to stand with veterans and their families to ask our state lawmakers, employers, and medical professionals to support efforts to ensure that when veterans come home they will have access to the medicine that works for them.

The summit will give New Mexico veterans with qualifying conditions the opportunity to learn about the medical marijuana program, how to become a patient in New Mexico, have questions answered by professionals in the medical marijuana community. Those attending will also be able to share stories about obstacles they have faced related to medical marijuana and will find out how they can become active participants in the Freedom to Choose campaign.

What: Summit for veterans and military families Freedom to Choose Campaign

When: Saturday, November 9th, 9am-3pm (MT)

Location: Sheraton Albuquerque Uptown 2600 Louisiana Blvd, NE


About New Mexico’s Medical Marijuana Program and Veterans’ Access to It

New Mexico’s medical marijuana program is considered a nationwide model – in 2007 New Mexico became the first state to develop and implement a state-licensed medical marijuana production and distribution system, and in 2009 it became the first medical marijuana state to specifically include post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition.

“This campaign has national implications, as hundreds of thousands of veterans return home from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD. Many veterans are unaware that the Veterans Administration now has a policy allowing veterans to use medical marijuana without losing their benefits or access to treatment at the VA,” said Jessica Gelay of the Drug Policy Alliance. “We hope that this summit will encourage more New Mexico veterans to become qualified patients in New Mexico, We also hope the campaign will encourage other states to ensure that their veterans receive the best care possible.”

During her 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Susana Martinez (R) vowed to repeal New Mexico’s medical marijuana law. In 2012, access to medical marijuana for people diagnosed with PTSD was in danger when a petition was brought to the Department of Health program requesting that PTSD be eliminated from the list of conditions allowed for eligibility in the state’s medical marijuana program. Fortunately, in May, the DOH upheld a recommendation by the Medical Cannabis Program’s Medical Advisory Board and announced that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will remain a qualifying condition.

Still, many New Mexico veterans are finding it difficult to access effective and safe treatments for their conditions and are sometimes fired from their jobs for being legal patients in the state-run program. Augustine Stanley, an Iraqi war veteran, was fired by the Bernalillo Metropolitan Detention Center for being a legal and qualified patient in New Mexico's medical marijuana program. This unfair decision has had life-changing consequences for the Stanleys who are now struggling to support their family. Augustine’s wife, Anetra Stanley, says “It is wrong that this happened, but I don’t want him to stop using medical marijuana. This medicine gave us our family back, and we aren't alone.”

Service members returning home from tours of duty are often physically and psychologically shattered. Data indicates that these combat soldiers will struggle with higher rates of substance abuse, overdose, imprisonment, suicide, domestic violence, unemployment and homelessness than the general population. Medical marijuana is something that researchers have found helpful to relieve symptoms from treatment resistant combat stress and supports people in reintegrating into their community and family life. This research has been confirmed by the experiences of thousands of veterans, especially those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“When I returned home from Afghanistan I was diagnosed with PTSD. I worked with my doctor and tried many prescription drugs. Taking handfuls of pills every day, every one with a different set of side effects was hard on my body, and I still experienced some symptoms,” said Michael Innis, who served in the General Infantry and who was awarded a Purple Heart after the convoy he was traveling with got hit by an IED and was then ambushed. “Cannabis was not my first choice of medicine, but I tell you first hand, this medicine works for me. Cannabis allows me to leave my house and has helped me to return to work.”

Unfortunately, veterans’ legal access to medical marijuana is not secure or widely acknowledged by New Mexico’s employers and the medical community as proven medicine to relief serious combat conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain. On June 11th, 2013, the Albuquerque Journal reported, “It’s been more than three decades since post-traumatic stress disorder was recognized as a distinct medical diagnosis by the medical community and the federal government, but many veterans dealing with PTSD are still having trouble getting effective treatment.”
The Campaign is standing up to protect the legal rights of veterans to access safe medicine. They are asking for all compassionate New Mexicans to join them in telling lawmakers, medical professionals, and employers to protect the rights of military veterans seeking relief from medical marijuana. New Mexico's military veterans deserve the freedom to choose the safest treatment for their disabling conditions. When they come home, they deserve access to the medicine that works for them.

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A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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