Colorado approves $8M in grants for medical marijuana research

Colorado’s Board of Health on Wednesday approved up to $8 million in grants to pay for eight studies on medical marijuana, the largest-ever state-funded effort to study the medical efficacy of cannabis.

The studies will look at whether marijuana can be used to treat childhood epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, pediatric brain tumors and spine pain. The results of the studies will provide some of the best — and most respected — evidence to date on whether marijuana is a useful medicine.

“This is new and uncharted territory,” Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director of the Colorado health department, said prior to the board’s unanimous vote to approve the pot research funding.

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Last year, the state legislature authorized the Colorado health department to spend $9 million on medical marijuana research, meaning there remains about $1 million that could be used to expand the already approved studies or fund additional research.

The money comes from the registration fee that patients pay to be on the state’s medical marijuana registry. That funding mechanism has prompted a lawsuit from a group of medical marijuana advocates, who argue that research is an unconstitutional use of registration fees.

The Patient and Caregiver Rights Litigation Project is asking a judge in Denver to block implementation of the grant program, saying that Colorado’s medical marijuana amendment requires patient fees only be used for administrative purposes.

“It’s not going to happen,” Kathleen Chippi, one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, told the Board of Health on Wednesday about the grant program. “You don’t have the legal right.”

Other medical marijuana supporters, though, pleaded with the Board of Health to approve the grants. Wendy Turner, whose son uses cannabis to treat his Crohn’s disease, broke into tears while describing her son’s condition. She said he was in a wheelchair when the family moved to Colorado from Illinois for access to medical marijuana. This summer, with his disease in remission, he was able to climb mountains, Turner said.

“This research is important because there are so many other kids out there like this,” she said.

Veterans’ supporters also backed the grants. Chris Latona, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, said, if marijuana is proven an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, it could stem an epidemic of veterans’ suicides.

“We need to use every tool available at this point to save these young men and women’s lives,” he said.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com