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Veteran with PTSD hopeful for marijuana study despite hurdle

TUCSON- Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder are finding relief through medical marijuana. It’s a hot topic at the Arizona state legislature as Sen. Kimberly Yee single-handedly killed a bill that would take medical marijuana card fees and apply it to groundbreaking marijuana research at the University of Arizona.

The bill passed the house 52-5. Rep. Ethan Orr who sponsored the bill feels the support is there in the senate but eye’s refusal to hear the bill in the committee she chairs ends the legislative process. It has upset veterans who want to know more about the relief they are getting from cannabis.

“Cannabis for me has been something that has allowed me to just find my even keel and get back out there,” said Veteran Ricardo Pereyda who returned from combat in 2005.

He wasn’t always so ‘even keel’ after he returned to civilian life.

“Day to day you are seeing bodies that are blown up. You are seeing all kinds of crazy, just messed up things,” he said of his experience in combat.

Those gruesome memories that at the time of war seemed routine played over and over again in his head. Like so many returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, Ricardo was diagnosed with PTSD.

“Alcohol in combination with the prescription drugs almost took me out.”

Pills prescribed to him by Veterans Affairs for PTSD seemed to do more harm than good. He shut himself out from his friends and family until he learned to meditate and found marijuana. He’s like so many Veterans Dr. Sue Sisley has encountered.

“I couldn’t ignore that all these veterans were coming to me one after another explaining how this plant had been beneficial to them,” said Dr. Sisley.

A researcher at University of Arizona’s Phoenix campus, Dr. Sisley recently received rarely awarded federal approval to begin studying the effects of marijuana on veterans with PTSD even further. She also received approval from The Public Health Service. Marijuana is the only schedule one drug requiring approval from both of those entities. Additionally, Dr. Sisley’s research will need approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration which she expects to come through very soon.

“Our hypothesis is that marijuana will ease the symptoms of PTSD in a dose dependent manner,” said Sisley.

Senator Yee denied an interview with News 4 but her office issued a statement which cites a concern over limited state funds and about moving towards marijuana legalization. Bill sponsor Rep. Ethan Orr says he tried to hash out the problem with her.

“I left a very nice message for Kimberly Yee saying look, I don’t care who gets the credit. I just want good policy at the Governor’s desk, will you please sit down with me, I will work with you any way you want on this bill. This is important to a lot of people, and again, she never returned my call,” said Orr.

Ricardo sees this as politics as usual. But, with the confidence and courage he says he’s gained with the help of marijuana, he feels funding, public or private, will come along soon for this research. In the meantime he has a message for people who’ve struggled like he has; consider medical marijuana and most importantly, ask for help.

“If you keep working at it, if you put one foot in front of the other, there is going to be success. There’s going to be the victory, like, oh that feels great! I can’t believe I was able to do that when you look back and you see all the things you overcame,” said Pereyda.

Senator Yee sponsored a bill this session that would use the same money generated by medical marijuana cards to teach students about the danger of recreational pot use and for drug abuse prevention public service announcements. Her bill was voted down. She does not say in her response if that had anything to do with blocking Rep. Orr’s bill.

The Arizona Veterans Assistance Committee filed to recall senator Yee. Backed by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, they have until August 2nd to return 18,297 signatures from Yee’s district.

Here is Yee’s full statement:

“It is unfortunate that the supporters of HB 2333 have decided to distort the intent of the bill and the reason I did not hear this bill in the Senate Education Committee. I am not opposed to university research to assist veterans. In fact, last year I was the lead sponsor of the legislation that even allowed for such research to occur at the University of Arizona, working with veterans and researchers around the table to make sure that bill passed.

Because of my concerns about limited state funds, I received assurances from those supporting such research that funds would come from the federal government or private donations and that no state money would be used. Today, they have turned their story around and have broken their promise. My voting record shows I support veterans and research. This is about how we should use limited state resources and be wise stewards of our taxpayer dollars.

As policymakers, we have to ask if this takes us down the path of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Arizona. The bill I proposed this year, SB 1389, using those same funds would educate our youth about the dangers of recreational marijuana and pay for public service announcements to prevent drug abuse.

I am currently working with those in our Senate chamber to determine the best legislative solution for this issue before we end our legislative session. Until those discussions are finalized, I cannot go into further details at this time.”