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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, speaks at a press conference where three veterans spoke on behalf of his bill, SB73, the Medical Cannabis Act, on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016, in Salt Lake City. The bill, which passed the Utah Senate, now goes to the Utah House.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah veterans expressed support Friday for Sen. Mark Madsen's medical marijuana bill as a treatment option for post traumatic stress disorder.

Pete Haglin, a former paratrooper, shared his own journey with PTSD.

"When we volunteered, we knew what that entailed. We knew what it meant to be a paratrooper. We know that paratroopers fight, that paratroopers die. We were prepared for that," he said.

"What we weren't prepared for was some of the struggles we would face back home in dealing with some of the aftereffects. Once we were home, we found out that PTSD was a pretty formidable foe," Haglin said, adding that his main symptom is insomnia.

Not only do veterans suffer with pain but emotional trauma, said Courtney Meyers, a former combat medic.

"In the U.S., 21 veterans take their own lives every day. Many are on a cocktail of medications intended to reduce the suffering experienced from their physical and emotional wounds," she said.

The side effects of such drugs — including impotence, weight gain and lethargy — have led some veterans to take their own life, Haglin said.

Cannabis, he said, would prevent some of those deaths.

"Cannabis is not a cure for PTSD. We know that. But there are studies that show that cannabis allows for very significant treatments of the symptoms," Haglin said, citing a study that found up to 75 percent of PTSD symptoms could be eliminated through the use of medical cannabis.

"If we can lower (PTSD symptoms) by 75 percent without forcing our vets to resort to these concoctions, I think there's no doubt that we're going to see a reduction in the suicides," Haglin said.

"This could have huge implications for the veterans community. The problem is that it's hard to get them to speak out," said Madsen, the sponsor of SB73.

The Saratoga Springs Republican read a letter he received from a veteran, keeping the author's name anonymous.

"I would like to be involved with this bill," the letter read. "I would like to tell my story about how medical cannabis has saved my life, but I am afraid to speak out."

Such fears are common among veterans being treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Madsen said.

"Several veterans in Utah that I have spoken with have actually had medical care withheld for using medical cannabis to treat their PTSD, as well as for pain for injuries sustained in the line of duty," the letter continued.

"These are voices that are not being heard," Madsen said. "And these are voices that are extremely, extremely important to me, and I believe to the Legislature and I believe to the people of Utah as well."

Under SB73, cannabis products would only be used to treat PTSD symptoms resulting from military service.

Rumored amendments from the House could include PTSD treatment for other groups, including first responders and rape victims, Madsen said.

Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, said he expects one-third of the House to support of the bill and another third to be firmly against it.

"It's my job to convince that center third group that it's the proper thing to do," said Froerer, the bill's House sponsor.

"I think the biggest hurdle we have to prove and show my colleagues in the House is that we do have the proper walls in place so that we can restrict access. We can control who prescribes this medication and the procedure so that this doesn't turn into recreational marijuana," he said.

"We're optimistic, but we're not taking anything for granted," Madsen said.

Email: elarson@deseretnews.com