By Matt St. Jean, SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill allowing veterans with PTSD to apply for a medical marijuana license.
“Many of our veterans are suffering from PTSD and the medical community has determined that marijuana can be a helpful treatment in some areas,” Governor Cuomo said. “If there are veterans that are suffering and we can make a treatment available, we want to.”
Although the State of New York gave veterans the green light, Veterans Affairs reiterated its stance against their physicians prescribing marijuana. Veterans in VA care are permitted to obtain a medical marijuana license, but according to the VA’s statement, “clinicians may modify treatment plans for the health of the patient.”
A stance which, Robert Rivera, a Syracuse resident and Army veteran, said could leave veterans without treatment at all.
“That’s the problem I think a lot of veterans are facing is that we can’t do anything, our hands are tied.” Rivera said. “We’re forced literally into a situation where we have to take narcotic medications because if we take anything that’s natural or marijuana or anything else, we’ll lose everything that we have.”
According to a VA study, VA clinicians prescribed over one million opioid medications to approximately 440,000 veterans in 2014. A follow-up study in 2016 found that 66,000 veterans developed addictions to the painkillers.
“They’re highly addictive,” Rivera said. “I have friends who are very addicted. Fortunately, I haven’t lost anyone, but it’s only a matter of time.”
A Marine veteran in Rochester started a non-profit called the Veterans Cannabis Collective Foundation to advocate for cannabis to be used as a form of therapy.
Mark DiPasquale retired from the Marines in 2010 and found himself on nearly 17 different medications to cope with his mental and physical injuries.
At the urging of a fellow veteran, he started experimenting with cannabis and discovered he didn’t need the prescriptions. After the change, he graduated from college and he said he made it his mission to advocate for veterans to seek alternative treatment to those prescribed by the VA.
“I’m eight years clean now, I just use cannabis.” DiPasquale said. “Not even aspirin.”
In addition to cannabis advocacy, DiPasquale is working with a local farmer in Bergen to open a hemp farm. He said he hopes the farm will provide veterans with jobs a safe space to medicate with cannabis and help them transition from the battlefield to civilian life.
“If you wanna be there, this is what you wanna do and you’re hurting and you want to be around your brothers and sisters it’s going to be easy for you to hang out with us.” DiPasquale said.
DiPasquale said he wants the farm to serve as a place where veterans can turn to in place of a pill bottle or a bar. The VCCF is finalizing an application for the farm and aims for the facility to be up and running in 2018.