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Judge won't lift medical marijuana restrictions for PTSD
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Judge won't lift medical marijuana restrictions for PTSD

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Will Humble

PHOENIX — A judge has rejected efforts by a marijuana advocacy group to quash limits set by the Department of Health Services on how and when patients with post-traumatic stress disorder can legally use the drug.

In a ruling Wednesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Crane McClennen said there was “substantial evidence” to support the restrictions imposed last year by Will Humble, who was state health chief at the time.

And McClennen said adopting the views of the Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association that the restrictions are inappropriate would amount to requiring him to substitute his own judgment for that of the health chief, something he legally cannot do.

But attorney Kenneth Sobel said the judge got it wrong.

“It’s not justice,” he said. “Justice requires that you have independent judiciary that is able to evaluate the behavior of a state agency and determine whether or not they acted in accordance with the law.”

And the losers, he said, will be veterans suffering from PTSD.

The lawsuit is an outgrowth of the 2010 voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which allows the use of the drug by patients suffering from a list of specific medical conditions, ranging from glaucoma and AIDS to any chronic or debilitating condition that leads to severe and chronic pain.

At last count, more than 76,000 people have qualified to buy up to 2½ ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

The law, however, also requires the health department to consider requests for expanding the list of conditions for which doctors can recommend marijuana.

Humble initially rejected pot use for PTSD.

Last July, however, he changed his mind after finding some scientific evidence that it can help some people with the condition. Humble said there also was anecdotal testimony, including by those diagnosed with PTSD, that smoking the drug helps.

But Humble limited its use to “palliative care,” meaning treating only the symptoms and not the underlying disease.

“I’ve never seen anything that says it’s an effective treatment,” Humble told Capitol Media Services at the time.

Humble also said he would approve marijuana for use only for those who were already being treated for PTSD — even if it was just counseling sessions — before allowing a doctor to conclude that marijuana would be helpful.

He said he wanted to be sure that physicians were not promoting marijuana as the first course of action before trying something else.

McClennen said Humble’s actions — and the limits he placed on when doctors can recommend marijuana — were justified.

There are no similar limits on how and when a doctor can recommend marijuana for those other conditions spelled out in the 2010 law. He said that was a decision voters were entitled to make.

But Humble said the voters, in adopting the law, directed him to add new conditions only with evidence that the drug helps that specific condition. And that, he said, empowers him to place limits on those additions.

Humble left the state health department in March and is now division director for health policy and evaluation at the Center for Population Science and Discovery at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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