WILMINGTON - Veterans and others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will have an easier time accessing medical marijuana under a new law sponsored by Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, and signed by Gov. John Carney today.
PTSD was already eligible for medical marijuana in Delaware, but state law made it the only qualifying medical condition that required approval from a licensed psychiatrist. Senate Bill 24, or the Bravery Bill, removes that language, allowing PTSD patients to receive a medical marijuana card from any properly licensed physician.
With Delaware facing a psychiatrist shortage, the reform could be a game changer for PTSD patients seeking alternatives to pharmaceuticals—and that’s particularly important for veterans.
“Veterans’ mental health has frankly become a crisis that we need to treat with a sense of urgency and compassion,” said Senate Majority Leader Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington. “Medical marijuana ought to be available to anyone who needs it and for whom it might offer an effective alternative to pharmaceuticals. That’s especially true for people whose health problems stem from their decision to serve their country in the face of danger. I was proud to sponsor this legislation and appreciate the work and testimony of all the advocates who helped us pass it.”
As many as one in five veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom suffer from PTSD, and a growing body of research and media attention has focused on epidemic rates of veteran suicide, homelessness, and mental health issues. There is no cure for PTSD.
Veterans’ advocates agree that the reform is critical to their wellbeing.
"Simply put, SB 24 will allow those suffering with PTSD to have more options other than pharmaceuticals, which can be dangerous and addictive,” said Kim Petters, President of the Women’s Veterans Collective and a ten-year Air Force veteran. “The veteran community continues to experience staggering suicide rates that far outnumber the amount of troops we lose in actual combat. The veteran accidental overdose rates alone more than double the national average. And when you take a look at the veteran homeless community you'll find at least 70 percent of homeless vets report substance abuse, most of which began with pharmaceuticals or alcohol. Thanks to Senator Henry, co-sponsors and Governor Carney's support, Delaware veterans now have better access to safer treatment options, which have been proven to be quite successful in managing PTSD symptoms."
House sponsors echoed the bill’s value to veterans’ quality of life, and called it an important step forward for Delaware’s Medical Marijuana Act.
“Soldiers returning from deployment face challenges that the vast majority of us can never comprehend. Research has shown that medical marijuana can help these men and women treat their PTSD, making this bill another vital step forward for Delaware’s medical marijuana law,” said Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington, a prime House sponsor. “Ever since we passed the original Medical Marijuana Act in 2011, the General Assembly has continued to revisit and improve the law by making this medicine available to more patients. As we learn more about who can benefit from this treatment, we will keep pushing for them to have access to it.”
“We owe it to our brave soldiers who are returning from difficult deployments that we will do everything in our power to care for their injuries, both physical and mental,” said Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, another House prime sponsor. “Making medical marijuana available to these men and women could have a profound impact on their quality of life. I’m grateful that nearly every member of the General Assembly – including some who voted against the original 2011 law – supported this effort to provide for our military service members.”
SB 24 sprung from the advocacy of Rich Jester, a Delawarean who successfully lobbied for a 2016 bill making terminal diseases eligible for medical marijuana. Jester later met an Iraq veteran who said he wished he was dying because state law made it easier to treat terminal illness than PTSD.
“The VA has been sending veterans out on the streets with loads of prescription drugs for decades,” said Jester. “Their personnel have admitted publicly to a shortage of counselors and an inability to track potentially lethal interactions between multiple medications. Traditional pharmaceuticals can’t manage the anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, and recurring thoughts that come with PTSD, and many victims end up dying when prescription drugs prove to be ineffective or dangerous. Cannabis shows real promise as a treatment and I haven’t seen a pharmaceutical that can match it in terms of tolerance form the body, safety, and lack of significant side effects. Thank you to Senator Henry for sponsoring this legislation and to Governor Carney for signing it.”