A Marine Corps veteran called me up just before the Memorial Day weekend. He told me he was from South Jersey and he asked how he could get into New Jersey’s Medicinal Marijuana Program (MMP). He said he had chronic pain from a broken back as a result of a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
I told him that New Jersey’s MMP was extremely restrictive and that chronic pain was not a qualifying condition here unless it was associated with cancer or HIV/AIDS. No traumatic injury, no matter how serious, qualifies for marijuana therapy in this state.
“But I was on opiates for eleven years,” he said. “It was horrible. I was addicted. Then nine months ago, I found marijuana. I’ve been off all opiates entirely for nine months now. Marijuana’s given me my life back. I just want to use it legally.”
I told him I was sorry, but the Department of Health (DOH) has not even begun the process to add qualifying conditions to the MMP—though they are empowered by law to do so at any time. Nor is the DOH likely to add any qualifying conditions under Governor Christie, since the governor insisted he was “done” expanding the program “under any circumstances.”
The ex-Marine told me he also suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of the helicopter crash.
“Do you know the motto of the Marine Corps?” he asked me.
“Semper Fidelis,” I said.
“That’s the official motto. The unofficial motto is, ‘Never leave a Marine behind.’ I was a Marine Corps officer, flying that helicopter. When we crashed, the other chopper pilot circled the crash, figured everybody was dead, and flew on. I laid there for three hours, with two dead crewmates and a broken back. It was horrible. The worst part was the feeling that they left me behind. Finally, some Army soldiers found me and brought me to a hospital.”
I told him that no mental or emotional conditions qualified for marijuana therapy in New Jersey—not PTSD or anything else. Seven of the states that allow medical marijuana recognize PTSD as a qualifying condition – but not New Jersey. Marijuana shows great promise in the treatment of PTSD. It is certainly better and safer than any traditional drug. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day because PTSD is so poorly managed in this country.
Don’t leave this Marine behind again. Not on Memorial Day. Make sure he gets the medicine he needs. Make sure all veterans get the best medical treatment possible—including safe and legal access to medical marijuana.