PHOENIX -- The Arizona Supreme Court will not remove some barriers that now exist for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder to get medical marijuana.
Without comment, the justice on Tuesday rejected arguments by the Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association that former state Health Director Will Humble acted illegally in imposing certain conditions before a doctor can recommend the drug, a policy maintained by successor Cara Christ. There are no similar requirements for others who are entitled to legally use the drug.
The justices provided no explanation of their decision which leaves leaves intact the ruling issued earlier this year by the state Court of Appeals upholding the conditions.
But attorney Ken Sobel, who represents the Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association, said this may not be the end of the fight. Sobel said he may make a federal case of this by arguing that the differential -- and he says discriminatory -- treatment of PTSD patients violates the Equal Protection Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Central to the legal issue is the 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana which Act specifically allows the use of the drug by patients suffering from a list of specific medical conditions like glaucoma, AIDS and any chronic or debilitating condition that leads to severe and chronic pain. At last count there were more than 136,000 people who had the required doctor's recommendation that allows them to buy up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.
That same law also requires the health department to consider requests to expand the list of qualifying conditions.
Humble initially rejected pot use for PTSD.
In 2014, 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 that only to help with symptoms rather than be seen as an actual cure.
"I've never seen anything that says it's an effective treatment,'' Humble told Capitol Media Services at the time.
And Humble also said that doctors could recommend marijuana only to patients who already were being treated for PTSD, even if it was only counseling sessions. Humble said he wanted to be sure that physicians were not promoting marijuana as the first course of action before trying something else.
Sobel, representing the nurses' group, charged that Humble exceeded his authority in imposing such restrictions. He complained that PTSD sufferers, many of them veterans, had to "jump through hoops'' and try other treatments before they could get the marijuana they need, a requirement unique to those who want to use the drug for PTSD.
But Judge Samuel Tumma, writing for the Court of Appeals earlier this year, said challengers provided no proof that Humble had exceeded his legal authority in setting the restrictions. Thumma also rejected arguments that it was illegal for Humble to distinguish between patients who want medical marijuana for a cure and those who want it solely to treat the symptoms.
The most recent figures show that just 1,860 medical marijuana patients were getting the drug for PTSD.