Congress has given veterans the right to discuss medical marijuana use as a treatment option with Veterans Affairs doctors in states where medical marijuana is legalized.
The new legislation allows VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana and complete the required paperwork for state-legalized medical marijuana programs, but it doesn’t allow the VA to sell medical marijuana or cover costs for veterans, the Military Times reports.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer stated, “The death rate from opioids among VA health care is nearly double the national average. From what I hear from veterans is that medical marijuana has helped them deal with pain and PTSD, particularly as an alternative to opioids.”
The VA is recommending that its doctors use evidence-based therapies that have been proven by scientific research to be effective with medical marijuana; for instance, treating PTSD, depression or chronic pain.
An attorney from the Arizona law firm Rowley Chapman & Barney, Ltd., shares insight into Arizona’s marijuana DUI laws and affirmative defense. Attorney Brian Strong wrote an article on the law firm’s website describing his experience with defending Arizonans from marijuana DUI charges.
The article states:
“As an experienced Arizona DUI defense attorney, I have defended numerous individuals who have been charged with violating the DUI statutes because marijuana or an active metabolite was found in their blood. While the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (the “AMMA”) does offer an affirmative defense to DUI-marijuana, this particular affirmative defense is relatively new in the law. Consequently, we are just beginning to learn how a jury might apply, or misapply, some key concepts.
Not surprisingly, most AMMA patients who speak with me seem dismayed that they can even be charged with DUI as the result of medical marijuana use. After all, doesn’t a medical marijuana card provide absolute immunity from a DUI prosecution? Sadly, in Arizona, the answer is no. Medical marijuana patients only get an affirmative defense.
In the criminal realm, an affirmative defense is a matter of avoiding legal consequences – not proving innocence. An affirmative defense does not disprove any of the essential elements of the State’s case. Rather, an affirmative defense introduces new facts that allow the defendant to commit an otherwise unlawful act but suffer no punishment. Insanity and statutes of limitation are two of the most common affirmative defenses.
In November of 2015, the Supreme Court of Arizona emphasized that while the AMMA “broadly immunizes registered qualifying patients for their medical use of marijuana, that grant of immunity is not absolute.” Dobson v. McClennen, 238 Ariz. 389, 361 P.3d 374, 376 (2015). What the AMMA does provide is that “a registered qualifying patient shall not be considered to be under the influence of marijuana solely because of the presence of metabolites or components of marijuana that appear in insufficient concentration to cause impairment.” A.R.S. § 36–2802(D) (emphasis added).
As a result, under the AMMA affirmative defense, a driver must present evidence that: (1) the driver was a qualified patient under the AMMA; and (2) the driver was not impaired at the time of his or her arrest. The driver’s own testimony that he or she was not impaired is an obvious and essential component of any AMMA affirmative defense. In addition, an expert witness toxicologist should also be retained to educate the jury regarding impairment.
In a DUI-alcohol case, a blood alcohol level of .08 has decades of scientific research to support a presumption of impairment. The same, however, is not true in DUI-drug cases. Arizona’s appellate courts have repeatedly acknowledged that “unlike alcohol, there is no generally applicable concentration that can be identified as an indicator of impairment for illegal drugs.” 361 P.3d at 378 (citations omitted). Yet most lay jurors are probably unfamiliar with this scientific fact. The right expert witness can teach the jury the undisputed science that will lead to a correct verdict in a medical marijuana DUI. On the other hand, an improperly presented AMMA affirmative defense can have disastrous consequences for a qualified marijuana patient.”
The group backing the initiative to legalize marijuana in Arizona that is anticipated to appear on this November’s ballot, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA), called on the initiative’s opposing group to return a $10,000 donation from the Arizona alcohol industry on grounds of hypocrisy.
Anti-marijuana group, Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy (ARDP), has repeatedly argued that marijuana should remain illegal because it is too dangerous, according to Phoenix New Times. However, scientists have repeatedly proven that marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol.
The $10,000 donation from last month came from the Arizona Wine and Spirits Association, a trade association representing numerous alcohol wholesalers.
“Using alcohol money to fund their campaign to maintain marijuana prohibition is grossly hypocritical,” said J.P. Holyoak, CRMLA Chairman. “They want to continue punishing adults for using marijuana, but they have no problem accepting five-figure donations from purveyors of a far more harmful substance. Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy should return this contribution immediately. If they don’t, they should just acknowledge that their campaign has nothing to do with promoting public health and is merely based on anti-marijuana prejudice.”
CRMLA needs only 150,000 valid signatures by July to get on the November ballot, and currently has collected over 215,000 gross signatures.
“As we finish the signature drive and launch the final stage of the campaign, we anticipate that our opponents will be ramping up their efforts,” said Holyoak. “As they do, we will be watching closely to see whether they continue to receive support from the alcohol industry or from companies that promote the use of alcohol. Our campaign is not opposed to alcohol, but we are opposed to hypocrisy. It is simply inappropriate and objectionable for those who profit from the sale of alcohol to use those profits to prohibit adults from using a less harmful substance.”
Ohio could soon become the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana.
“I am absolutely convinced that there is therapeutic value in medical marijuana,” said a local Republican.
The bill would legalize marijuana use for patients with at least one qualifying medical condition. Smoking marijuana would not be permitted. Parents who are patients would not lose their children for possessing or using marijuana.
Ohioans for Medical Marijuana will continue campaigning for their ballot initiative, which is backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, a national non-profit. OMM’s initiative comprises of several more qualifying conditions than the House bill, and also allows patients to smoke and grow their own marijuana.