PHOENIX - Arizona residents who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder will be able to legally use marijuana to help alleviate their symptoms under a decision announced Wednesday by the state's top health official.
The decision by Department of Health Services Director Will Humble adopts the findings of an administrative law judge's recommendation issued last month. The decision was made public on the day Humble was required to accept, modify or reject Judge Thomas Shedden's decision. It takes effect on Jan. 1.
Humble denied adding PTSD to the list of ailments that qualified for a medical marijuana card in December, after a public hearing and comment period where 700 people supported the effort to add the disorder and only two people spoke in opposition. A health department committee also had reviewed a University of Arizona analysis of medical studies and recommended Humble deny the request in part because there were no high-quality scientific tests in humans showing marijuana helped PTSD patients.
The Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association then appealed to the Office of Administrative Hearings, and Shedden heard four days of testimony earlier this year. His decision said Humble misinterpreted state rules on adding medical marijuana conditions and said substantial evidence was introduced showing patients receive "palliative benefit from marijuana use."
Humble wasn't available for comment, but said in a blog post that information presented at the hearing and in a subsequent published medical study "provided evidence that marijuana may be helpful in the palliative care of PTSD in some patients."
Humble's decision requires that prescribing doctors certify their patients are undergoing conventional treatment for the disorder. Marijuana can only be prescribed to relieve symptoms, not treat them.
Ken Sobel, a Tucson attorney who argued the case before the administrative law judge, was ecstatic at Humble's decision.
"Yes, yes, outstanding! We are very pleased with that decision, as will be the 500,000 plus PTSD patients in the state of Arizona, especially our returning war heroes who are suffering from PTSD in epidemic proportions," Sobel said. "We thank Director Humble for exercising correct judgment in this case."
The use of medical marijuana is allowed in Arizona under a voter-approved 2010 law. The measure allows patients with diseases including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and any other "chronic or debilitating" disease that meets guidelines to buy no more than 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks or grow plants in certain areas.
The decision by Humble marked the first time he had added a qualifying condition to the list.
Sobel hopes it isn't the last, and on Wednesday filed a petition asking Humble to add Parkinson's disease.
"The Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association filed this on behalf of primarily our senior citizens," Sobel said. "Our focus is on trying to get these conditions added for the most vulnerable of our residents here in Arizona, such as the veterans in the case of PTSD and Parkinson's disease, which afflicts mostly people that are 60 years of age and older."
Eleven states had previously approved using medical marijuana for PTSD, according to Shedden's ruling.