In separate bills, advocates are pushing to add a few more qualifying conditions to the state’s medical marijuana law, including fibromyalgia, chronic pain and opioid addiction. But it’s a bill that would allow people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to purchase therapeutic cannabis that might have stronger chances of passing than ever before.
Outgoing Republican state Rep. Joe Lachance of Manchester, a longtime marijuana advocate and user, submitted a legislative service request to create a bill adding PTSD to the qualifying conditions list. Since he lost his re-election bid, he said his colleague, Republican state Rep. Eric Schleien, will work as the bill’s prime sponsor in the next session.
The battle is a personal one for Lachance, an Army veteran who served in the 25th Infantry Division. He said he developed chronic pain from neurological damage in his right leg after countless parachute drops. He also suffers from PTSD.
Back surgery failed to correct the problem and opioid painkillers prescribed by the VA got Lachance hooked on a steadily climbing dosage of OxyContin, oxycodone and fentanyl patches. About three or four years ago, he detoxed from the opioids with the help of his family and began using cannabis.
“I can tell you first hand that the cannabis certainly helps,” Lachance said.
Before, he barely slept; he now gets a good five hours of sleep, which is a lot for him. Since his neurological damage and its accompanying pain are a qualifying condition, he now acquires marijuana legally at the dispensary in Plymouth.
“It’s more expensive, but you’re certainly looking at product that’s grown under controlled environment, no pesticides — you know what you’re getting,” Lachance said.
When medical marijuana first became legal in New Hampshire in 2013, Gov. Maggie Hassan signaled she would not support coverage of PTSD in any bill the legislature put on her desk. She said that was due to the position of the New Hampshire Medical Society, which opposed PTSD coverage because of a dearth of American scientific research supporting the claims that marijuana had benefits, preferring instead to lean on traditional psychotherapy.
Next year, a number of things will have changed that advocates like Lachance think significantly improve the bill’s chances of success.
“This is our year,” Lachance said.
The New Hampshire House has been historically friendlier to loosening up marijuana regulations, the Senate has seen a lot of turnover in the last election and Republican Governor-elect Chris Sununu may be more open to PTSD coverage than Hassan was, given his support of marijuana decriminalization.
“He seems like the type of governor that if we can show that there’s a benefit, he’s willing to give it a shot. Because it’s clear what we’re doing now is not working,” Lachance said.
Plus, he said, the tone of general opposition from the New Hampshire Medical Society has softened in recent years.
NHMS President Deborah Harrigan said the organization has yet to meet and decide whether they will support or oppose the bill, but given past shifts, Harrigan said it’s not impossible for them to come around on the issue.
“I think that if you look at the decrim, the medical society back three years ago had said, let’s oppose decriminalization, and then we changed our stance,” Harrigan said.
Still, she said, the key thing NHMS will look for is evidence to back up claims of medical benefit. To that end, Lachance said he plans to supply the effort with as much scientific research — most of which has taken place abroad in places like Israel — as lawmakers can read.
Matt Simon at the Marijuana Policy Project said that while there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence and foreign research, the gold standard of a double-blind placebo-controlled study just got underway this year. The results are expected to come in a few years. If the findings confirm what advocates argue is a real medical benefit, the drug will become far more valuable.
“There is no FDA-approved pharmaceutical to treat post-traumatic stress,” Simon said.
Until then, those suffering from PTSD in New Hampshire must make due with off-label antipsychotics and therapy or obtain marijuana illegally.
If PTSD is added to the state’s approved list of qualifying conditions, it may mean a significant expansion of the program. In some states, like New Mexico, PTSD patients make up the majority of the program. Officials at the state Department of Health and Human Services, reached by email, said no impact study has yet been done on such an expansion.