Sean Azzariti has had a lot to say about medical marijuana.
Azzariti was the first person to purchase legal cannabis on New Year’s Day in Colorado, solidifying his place in history and popular culture — significant also because he is an Iraq War veteran. He entered the United States Marine Corps in 2000 and remained on active duty until 2006. During that time he was deployed twice to Iraq; once in 2003 al-Qaim and again in 2005 to al-Asad.
Upon returning home, Azzariti was barely managing on a mixture of anti-depressants, sleeping pills and Adderall, he soon began searching for a medicine that might help relieve what his prescriptions could not.
After some initial research, Sean discovered anecdotal evidence about PTSD and marijuana and began using it shortly after. He found it greatly alleviated the symptoms of PTSD including the nightmares and debilitating anxiety.
“It changed my life, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now if I kept taking those pills,” Azzariti told the Washington Times.
Sean continues to use marijuana every day to relieve his symptoms and has created a career for himself, campaigning for the use of medical marijuana for those suffering from PTSD.
Earlier this month, Sean stood in front of Colorado legislators and spoke about his experience and why the bill to add PTSD to the list of qualifying medical marijuana ailments deserves to be a law. During a brief respite between 4/20 appearances and interviews, I sat down with Sean to talk about the bill. Since we last spoke, Colorado legislators voted against the bill.
Errin Reaume: How long have you been campaigning for medical marijuana for veterans?
Sean Azzariti: I started campaigning in 2008 after being denied my medical marijuana license because I put PTSD down as my ailment for needing to use cannabis. That didn’t settle well with me that it was not a qualifying ailment, so I started reaching out to organizations such as SAFER and MPP to see what I could do to help advocate for the positive effects that cannabis has when treating PTSD symptoms.
ER: So, you began advocating for medical marijuana seven years ago. Did that always coincide with campaigns for PTSD to be added to the medical marijuana registry in Colorado, or is this particular frontier new to you?
SA: The past four years in particular have been more pointed to that. I helped with three previous campaigns to have PTSD added to the allowable ailments list, however, I think this bill has a much greater chance of passing than it did in the past.
ER: Besides treating PTSD what benefits could veterans see from the passing of this bill?
SA: Right now veterans that are not covered under the state’s medical marijuana program are at risk of losing their VA benefits for using cannabis to treat their PTSD symptoms. This bill would nullify any danger of that.
ER: There are so many amazing studies and programs researching the effects of marijuana and PTSD, are there any in particular you want to voice?
SA: There are obvious limitations regarding marijuana research right now and I truly believe if and when this bill passes, it will be a great step forward for the research of cannabis in regards to PTSD. MAPS is currently doing great things as far as PTSD studies.
Update: On Monday, April 28, a House committee voted 6-5 not to make PTSD the ninth medical condition for which Colorado doctors can recommend cannabis.
This is the third time Colorado has rejected the inclusion of PTSD of the list of allowable ailments. Colorado would have been the 11th state to include PTSD in their medical marijuana laws. Four states have moved to include the debilitating disorder in just the past six months.
The justification for rejection by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was “insufficient research” on PTSD and cannabis. Research, however, has been blocked for years. One such study, headed by Suzanne Sisley, has been awaiting federal approval for her 10-week study to include 50 veterans with PTSD at the University of Arizona for three years.
Despite another rejection, Sean Azzariti does not plan on giving up.
“We’re coming back, we’ll know their arguments for next year, and we have a really solid team. Hopefully we can make it happen next time,” Azzariti told Westword.
You can find out more about Sean’s campaigns and follow him on Twitter at @SeanAzzariti
Are you a veteran using medical cannabis to treat PTSD or know one who is? Share your story in the comments below!