Sixty veterans will have a shot at receiving a free medical cannabis card evaluation at an event hosted by Oahu-based cannabis organizations this month.

Medical evaluations are usually the most expensive step in the patient registration process, far exceeding the non-refundable Department of Health application fees of almost $40.

Me Fuimaono-Poe, medical director of Malie Cannabis Clinic, estimated a quarter of her patients were veterans. She said most struggle with chronic pain, the most common reason for which Hawaii patients are prescribed the drug, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Patients hold their 329 cards, which allow them to purchase medical cannabis. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat


Evaluations at her clinic cost $120 to $200, while veterans are typically charged $160. Those prices can be cost-prohibitive for some, she said.

There’s a huge veteran community on Oahu, she said. In her practice, Fuimaono-Poe said she’s seen cannabis products help veterans get off opiates and benzodiazepines. Suicide is a big issue in the veteran community, she said, and preventing prescription medication overdoses is a concern.

“It’s a big deal for our whole entire cannabis industry to be on the same page for an event,” Fuimaono-Poe said.

329 Veteran Stand Down event

The event is scheduled for Jan. 14 and organized by local groups including: veteran-serving nonprofit Complementary and Alternative Medicine on Oahu, clinics Mended Minds Hawaii and Malie Cannabis Clinic, dispensaries Aloha Green Apothecary and Noa Botanicals, cannabis testing lab Steep Hill Hawaii and the Hawaii Dispensary Alliance. Weedmaps, an online forum and dispensary map for cannabis users, is also co-sponsoring the event.

About 20 veterans commit suicide in America every day, according to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs research.

A new policy allows VA physicians to discuss medical cannabis with patients, Forbes magazine recently reported. Government doctors are still prohibited from recommending the drug since it’s illegal under federal law.

Fighting Painkiller Addiction

By the time Shikeem Butler retired from the Air Force in 2009, he had undergone cervical spine fusion, reconstructive shoulder surgery and more. Butler was prescribed opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycontin.

Now a Hawaii resident, he says he wasn’t addicted to the drugs, but “was awake enough to know” that the amounts given to him weren’t safe. A father of two children, Butler said he didn’t believe he was “above addiction to pills or heroin” and wanted to live for his kids.

“I pretty much realized that hey, I’m kind of self medicating with the prescription pills that are given to me, plus alcohol,” Butler said.

He became a California cannabis patient in 2010 after his regular physician suggested he contact a doctor specializing in marijuana. Soon after, he had two more surgeries that forced him to learn to walk all over again “like I was 70 years old with a walker.”

Butler attributes his improved health to medical cannabis, which he says has allowed him to control his pain and lose weight. The drug also helps him treat his stomach ulcers, hemorrhoids, stomach problems and irregular heartbeat caused by a steroid he was once prescribed, he said.

After moving to the Aloha State in April, Butler said he used cannabinoid products, which are derived from cannabis but don’t produce a high.

A recent graduate in the field of psychology, Butler said he wants to become a doctor and share with others the drug that “saved my life.”

“I want to make sure, first off, it gets in the hands of other disabled veterans — not just veterans but people, everyone, even children (for) epileptic seizures, the list goes on,” he said.

Shikeem Butler pictured with his kids, Jaden and Laila, after graduating last month with a degree in psychology. Courtesy: Shikeem Butler

Edgar Marshall, a veteran who now uses medical cannabis for PTSD, anxiety and chronic pain, said he became hooked on drugs prescribed to him by VA physicians such as oxycontin, and sedatives Ambien and Lunesta.

Marshall usually relies on cannabis for his medical ailments, but he has prescriptions for seven drugs to be taken three to five times daily that are used when he’s out of state.

“I know as soon as I get back to Hawaii, I can toss almost all of those in the drawer and forget about it,” Marshall said, later adding, “I could smoke a joint and I’m good for a whole day.”

When he was diagnosed with PTSD in 2007, Marshall said the VA was experimenting with ways to treat the disorder. When he was off his medication and PTSD started to creep back in, Marshall shook, had nightmares and became irritable, he said.

“The mask is gone and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde come out,” he said. “It’s scary.”

In addition to taking Cymbalta, a drug typically prescribed for depression and anxiety, a civilian psychiatrist recommended Marshall try medical cannabis to keep nightmares and anxiety at bay.

While Marshall wishes there were a greater product availability and that dispensaries outside of Honolulu were open on Oahu, he says dispensaries still beat the black market.

Before the dispensaries opened, Marshall said he relied on the black market. During a 12-week drug and alcohol course at the VA, he said he tested positive for methamphetamine. Marshall believes tainted cannabis was the culprit.

“You don’t know what you’re getting on the street, so it’s great that I can go to a pharmacy and get stuff that’s never been touched by human hands,” he said.

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