New York Adds PTSD as Qualifying Condition for Medical Cannabis

(Seth Wenig/AP)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo marked Veterans Day by signing a package of bills into law on Saturday, including a measure to add post-traumatic stress disorder to the state’s list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.

“Our veterans risked their lives in order to defend the ideals and principles that this nation was founded upon,” Cuomo said, “and it is our duty to do everything we can to support them when they return home.”

“PTSD is a serious problem facing our state, and now we have one more tool available to alleviate suffering.”
Bob Becker, New York State Council of Veterans Organizations

The bipartisan measure earned overwhelming support in the state Legislature earlier this year, winning landslide Assembly approval (131–8) in May and passing through the Senate (50–13) in June. As many as 19,000 New Yorkers with PTSD could be helped by medical marijuana, the Democratic governor said, including veterans as well as police officers and survivors of domestic violence, crime, and accidents.

In a statement, the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Richard N. Gottfried (D-Manhattan), said Cuomo’s signing of the bill “reflects growing recognition of the value of medical marijuana, and is another welcome step in the expanding and strengthening of New York’s medical marijuana program.”

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Veterans advocates also cheered the news. Many had previously warned that if Cuomo rejected the bill, those suffering from PTSD would be forced to turn to the illicit market or move out of the state in order to seek access to cannabis.

“Gov. Cuomo should be applauded for helping thousands of New York veterans find relief with medical marijuana,” said Bob Becker, legislative director for the New York State Council of Veterans Organizations. “PTSD is a serious problem facing our state, and now we have one more tool available to alleviate suffering.”

New York is the 28th state to allow medical marijuana to be used to treat PTSD. Of the 29 states that have legalized medical cannabis, Alaska is the only one that does not recognize PTSD as a qualifying condition. That state, however, has legalized cannabis for all adults over 21, enabling access for adults with PTSD even if they aren’t recognized medical marijuana patients.

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Cannabis has been used by PTSD patients to successfully treat symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, and hypervigilance as well as to improve coping abilities. Researchers are currently moving forward on the first federally-approved study looking at how smoked cannabis affects PTSD. In April 2016, the US Drug Enforcement Administration greenlighted the study, led by researcher Dr. Sue Sisley. In October, the project enrolled its 30th participant.

New York’s medical marijuana law allows patients with illnesses including cancer, AIDS, and Parkinson’s disease to use consume non-smokable forms of the drug.

Other measures Cuomo signed Saturday include a bill to provide more days off for combat veterans employed by the state and a bill waiving the civil service examination fee for veterans who were honorably discharged. Cuomo also announced a new program that will allow veterans to order service branch-specific license plates showing they served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard or Marines.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.