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Colorado could make history by funding cannabis research 

Medical mari-money

Colorado media have lately been flush with stories of how the oil derived from certain strains of marijuana is having a positive effect on epileptic children. Now, likely for the first time in American history, a state will actually fund the research to back up that kind of anecdotal evidence.

That assumes, of course, that the $7 million allocated in Gov. John Hickenlooper's 2014 budget — plus $84,656 to pay for a full-time fund administrator — actually passes legislative muster during the upcoming session. But should it, grants sized between $500,000 and $1 million would be available to universities, research hospitals, foundations and the like to study cannabis' effect on maladies like epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder, or the effect of marijuana in infant brain development.

"The impetus is that we have about $13 million in the Medical Marijuana [Program] Cash Fund, and it needs to be used for purposes that relate to the people who paid for their medical-marijuana cards," says Henry Sobanet, director of the Governor's Office of State Planning and Budgeting, in an interview with the Indy. "And the impetus really was that now there appears to be ways where legitimate research can be conducted on the use of cannabis or marijuana for medical purposes."

PTSD and pot have been linked in these parts for a while. Brian Vicente, executive director of advocacy group Sensible Colorado and co-author of Amendment 64, twice in the last three years has applied to the Colorado Board of Health for the condition to be added to the state's list of cannabis-treatable ailments. Those petitions have been rejected both times.

"We hear from veterans every day, or quite often at Sensible Colorado, that say that this helps them," Vicente told us in 2012. "So, we feel it's compelling both scientifically and morally."

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs professor Robert Melamede agrees, arguing that "our existing policies are literally killing veterans.

"And even though I'm an old hippie," he says, "I find that incredibly offensive. ... We've got veterans killing themselves every 60 or 90 minutes. It's ridiculous."

Melamede, who also runs an infused-products company called Cannabis Science, says he's a likely candidate to apply for a grant to launch a PTSD-related study, should the fund make it to life. Other organizations contacted for this story — like the research arm of University of Colorado Health, which leases Memorial Hospital — said no plans for a medical study would be made until the money was available.

The budget request says that, once passed into law, it would probably be July 2014 before the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment could issue any requests for proposals. No matter what, though, Sobanet says now seems to be a ripe time for "legitimate research."

"It's interesting, and I think we've seen these stories about people moving here, with the oil and the epilepsy," he says. "So yeah, I think if this works, it seems exciting that there could be treatments that come from a plant.

"[And] this is more on a personal note: These stories are fairly heartwarming — they appear to be providing a lot of relief. So, I think, for scientists that investigate these treatments, it's an exciting opportunity."

bryce@csindy.com

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