Arizona veterans hope federal bill clears path for cannabis research in the VA

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Lorenzo Sullivan is convinced that if he had been approved to take medical marijuana sooner, he’d still be married and he’d still be working as an investment banker. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Lorenzo Sullivan is convinced that if he had been approved to take medical marijuana sooner, he’d still be married and he’d still be working as an investment banker. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Like many veterans who use cannabis, Lorenzo Sullivan wants to see more federal research to validate the positive results he has seen in his own life. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Like many veterans who use cannabis, Lorenzo Sullivan wants to see more federal research to validate the positive results he has seen in his own life. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Now, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is pressing the Department of Veterans Affairs to begin medical marijuana research for the first time. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Now, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is pressing the Department of Veterans Affairs to begin medical marijuana research for the first time. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Lorenzo Sullivan is convinced that if he had been approved to take medical marijuana sooner, he’d still be married and he’d still be working as an investment banker.

The 71-year-old Vietnam veteran says the regimen of pills prescribed to him by the VA to treat his PTSD did more harm than good.

“Just read the side effects of some of this stuff,” he said. “No sane person would take that stuff.”

[RELATED: Appeal hearings begin on medical marijuana treatment for autism]

Like many veterans who use cannabis, Sullivan wants to see more federal research to validate the positive results he has seen in his own life. Now, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is pressing the Department of Veterans Affairs to begin medical marijuana research for the first time.

This week, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act unanimously advanced through a House committee and now heads to the full House floor.

The measure would clarify that the VA can, in fact, legally conduct marijuana research in the first place. The VA has argued in the past that participating in marijuana research would be illegal.

[READ MORE: Medical marijuana testing bill dies in AZ House from lack of Democratic support]

The bill would authorize the VA to study the effects of cannabis on chronic pain, PTSD and “other conditions the [VA] Secretary determines appropriate.” It also requires the VA to provide lawmakers with regular reports on their efforts.

The nation’s first federally approved study on cannabis and veterans with PTSD is currently underway here in the Valley. Scottsdale-based researcher Dr. Sue Sisley has been conducting a triple-blind study with FDA approval, but without help from the VA.

[RELATED: Medical marijuana testing bill passed by AZ Senate, heads to House]

“We could have finished this study probably a year ago if we had the cooperation of the Phoenix VA,” she said.

Without cooperation from the VA, Sisley said it’s taken far longer to find qualified participants. Currently, she has enrolled 61 veterans in the study and is looking for 19 more to begin by October.

[MORE: Could state lawmakers pave the way for medical marijuana to treat opioid addiction?]

Sisley said the Medicinal Cannabis Research Act is a step towards fostering more research like hers, but she worries the bill gives the department too much latitude. She worries the bill’s language allows for marijuana research but doesn’t guarantee it.

“Really what it should say is not that the VA [may] participate [in research], but that the VA must participate,” she said.

Sisley says her study is on track to finish trials in March 2019 and begin analyzing data.

[RELATED: Lawmakers pitch recreational marijuana as a way to help fund Arizona teacher pay raises]

“At this point, we've got millions of veterans around the U.S. who are actively using cannabis to manage a variety of ailments and we don't have enough data to guide them on how to do that safely,” she said.

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Derek StaahlDerek Staahl is an Emmy Award-winning reporter and fill-in anchor who loves covering stories that matter most to Arizona families.

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Derek Staahl

This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

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