Colorado might be a national trailblazer in expanding legal access to marijuana, but the state has fallen behind others when it comes to using medical marijuana to ease symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. A new bill, which cleared the state legislature earlier this week, could bring Colorado back to the progressive edge. SB17-017 will allow individuals suffering from PTSD to access medical marijuana for their condition. It is now awaiting Governor John Hickenlooper’s signature to become law.

At present, Colorado does not permit access to medical marijuana to ease any psychological conditions, despite emerging research that suggests that the plant could be helpful in easing PTSD, anxiety, and depression symptoms. SB17-017 represents the first time that a qualifying medical condition for medical marijuana has been added by the state legislature.

Twenty states, Guam, and Puerto Rico have already approved PTSD as a qualifying condition for access to medical marijuana, according to Denver-based Hoban Law Group. In July 2015, the Colorado Board of Health, which is instrumental in steering state health policy, voted not to add PTSD as a qualifying condition. The vote went against the recommendation of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) director Dr. Larry Wolk, who spoke at that meeting in favor of adding PTSD. At that time, Colorado would have been among the first states to allow patients with a psychological condition to access medical marijuana, but Board of Health members said there wasn’t enough scientific data to support recommending marijuana to PTSD patients.

State Senator Irene Aguilar (D-32) is a physician who co-sponsored SB17-017. She says she was swayed to support the bill primarily by patient advocacy groups who presented to the legislature’s interim committee on marijuana policy in the summer of 2016, and by the fact that there was support within the CDPHE to add the condition, despite the Board of Health’s decision in 2015.

“The Department of Public Health and Environment’s scientific advisory committee had advocated for [adding PTSD as a qualifying condition], but the board of health refused to do it,” Aguilar says. “Based on that recommendation, the interim committee referred this measure to the legislature, to be done by the legislature.”

Matthew Kahl, executive director of the 501(c)4 nonprofit Veterans for Natural Rights, has been a vocal advocate for this policy change. After serving two tours in Afghanistan, Kahl was tormented by intense PTSD flashbacks and says marijuana is the most effective treatment he’s found to ease his otherwise debilitating symptoms. He was among a cohort of veterans who pleaded their cases for using marijuana to ease PTSD symptoms before the Colorado Board of Health in July 2015. He and a group of veterans and other individuals living with PTSD also advocated for SB17-017, and brought a lawsuit against the CDPHE to appeal the Board’s 2015 decision.

“Personally, I cannot buy the strains that I need on the recreational market. There’s no way,” Kahl says. “It’s a lot of name recognition and THC result that drive sales there [in the recreational market]. For people who are legitimate medical users, who need other cannabinoids and specific terpene structures, recreational is just plain garbage.”

Haley Gray
Haley Gray
Haley Gray is a Boulder-based freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in 5280, Roads and Kingdoms, Boulder Magazine, and the Albuquerque Journal.