Medical Marijuana and Me

Everyone knows by now that I have become an outspoken advocate for I-182, Montana’s ballot initiative that would restore patient’s access to medical marijuana. What most people don’t know is how unlikely this partnership is. When I zoom out and look at my life, I can’t believe I am out in front of thousands of people on this issue. But thinking about the day-to-day realities for patients like me, and realizing that the access restrictions of SB 423 severely impact our quality of life, I can’t help but stand up for what is right and reasonable in the face of misguided and biased opposition.

Each time I think of writing my thoughts about medical marijuana I get overwhelmed. Every day I spend working on this project I learn more about the legitimate, helpful properties of this plant. I have studied the language of I-182 and have looked closely at the arguments on both sides. Most compelling, I have met more patients and heard more stories about the healing and relief they find in using cannibis. Frankly, it is hard sometimes to distill all this information down into simple, digestible talking points. Yet, I want to share with you my main reasons I stand behind this initiative, so here is what I want you to know:

  • I never used marijuana before my cancer diagnosis. I was too scared to commit a crime and I didn’t have a need for the drug in my life. I used it for the first time while in Washington in May when I was visiting a friend who was going to school in Seattle. Washington has recreational use marijuana and I was in the middle of a pain crisis from chemotherapy. I used it once there, it completely resolved my pain, and I was able to get a full night’s sleep- something I hadn’t enjoyed in months
  • I do not have access to medical marijuana today. In 2004 the voters passed the medical marijuana into law with 62% of voters in favor. In 2011, the legislature did their best to overturn the will of the voters by passing what was basically a repeal of the program. Specifically, the legislature hamstrung providers (growers) by limiting them to only 3 patients. This made the program so limited that it cannot function. Think: car without motor. The industry sued to keep the limitations from going into effect. Because of the protracted litigation on the issue, the damage done by the legislature did not come into effect until September of this year. I was out of state dealing with the blood clot in my heart and, you know, just trying to survive day-to-day when the restrictions were realized in Montana. Patient numbers far exceed the supply of providers in Montana and I cannot find one at this point. I am also not willing to commit a crime, so without a provider I cannot complete the application for a medical use card (that was recommended by my oncologist) and therefore cannot legally obtain or use medical marijuana in Montana. 
  • You can grow your own! I hate this argument. Yes, current law preserves patients’ rights to grow their own plants. That is great for people who have a sincere interest and the ability to do that. More power to them. I am not one of those people. For starters, I don’t know the first thing about the sophisticated and highly technical process of marijuana horticulture. You would not believe how advanced this process is, but I will easily say a good grower is as knowledgeable at their craft as I am about mine (the practice of law). Second, I don’t even know what I should be growing. The great thing about providers is that you can get set up with the product that works best for you, usually through a process of trial-and-error because they can grow so many different varieties of the plant. You will not get this experience by cultivating 1-4 plants on your own as a rookie and you run the serious risk that you will grow something that isn’t a good fit. What a waste. Third, we are assuming I have the money, space, energy, time, and safety precautions in place to grow my own plants. I don’t. At all. Because…cancer. Fourth, we are asking SICK people to GROW THEIR OWN MEDICINE. What in the heck kind of solution is that? It isn’t. It was never meant to be. In what other platform would we ask people to physically create their own medicine and wait the 4-6 weeks for it to mature and then hope it works? Nowhere. Of course not. That’s ridiculous. So it should be clear by this point that what we have now really isn’t a real solution, but just in case you were still wondering…
  • The 3 patient limit has left nearly 12,000 people without access to medical marijuana. A good relationship with your provider is gold. The industry has some incredibly talented, devoted and caring providers. These growers are establishing critical relationships with their patients to guide them and provide them with the specific product they need. These people are caring for patients with chron’s disease, multiple sclerosis, autism, epilepsy, neuropathy, chronic pain, cancer, etc. These are serious medical issues that gravely impact a person’s quality of life. Under the current law, providers have to decide who among their dozens of patients should they continue to help. This is devastatingly heartbreaking. I don’t know what kind of people came up with this idea to chop providers and patients off at the knees, but it is about the cruelest thing I can imagine for someone battling a terrible disease. I know because I’m fighting for my life every day. I don’t understand anyone who makes that more difficult than it needs to be.
  • Marijuana is amazing. The healing/relief properties of this plant are astonishing. There is so much this plant can do for the ill among us and we are only just starting to tap its resources. Marijuana has literally saved lives while being non-toxic and completely non-lethal. You cannot overdose on this drug. That is not a made up fact, that is science (google the endo cannabanoid system). It takes people off dangerous opioids (pain killers) and gives them their quality of life back. For example, one epilepsy patient reduced her seizures from 200-300 per week to 3-5 per week. Another patient’s life was saved by cannibis as she lay still cut open from surgery in a hospital room when she had a serious medical reaction. Her doctors ordered medical marijuana in her case as an option of last resort and it saved her life. You didn’t know cannibis was so powerful? Neither did I. Cool, huh?
  • Marijuana users are losers. I’ve heard every classist, elitist, prejudicial stereotype about marijuana users out there. It’s low hanging fruit. It’s unkind, it’s insincere, and it’s gross. It trivializes my suffering and it is not well taken. The truth is, disease doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can get it at any time. You don’t have to look far to see someone battling cancer or ms or chron’s. I believe Montanans demonstrate compassion for the sick among them and don’t have to resort to stereotypes and fear rhetoric to avoid looking at their suffering. 
  • The FDA/DEA/Pharmacies are not the answer. I know it’s tempting to dream about pharmacies prescribing medical marijuana and medical legalization on the federal level. We aren’t there yet. But dang it if I’m not sick today. So I guess the answer is that I should suffer because of my bad timing? I don’t accept that. We won’t get there without states putting pressure on the Feds to reschedule it and pharmaceutical companies to develop the drug anyway. So full speed ahead, baby. Please don’t make me suffer for something you and I both know is decades away.
  • This is NOT full legalization. We are talking about an accountable, responsible medical marijuana program. We are not talking about turning Montana into Washington or Colorado. If we do not pass I-182, sick people like me will not have access to the relief we need. It’s that simple.
  • The program is an excellent start. There are lots of things I-182 does beyond extend the number of patients a grower can provide for. It puts important rules in place that protect the public and patients. It makes the medical marijuana program safer, more accountable, more transparent, and more regulated while also making it reasonably accessible. As a lawyer who has studied the language of the initiative, I am impressed with the level of thought and clarity that has gone into I-182. I strongly feel that it is an excellent base to move Montana in the right direction of compassionate care for the sick and suffering among us.

Despite my attempts to be brief, it’s obvious from the above that there is a lot of discussion to be had on the issue. I am not thrilled about having to discuss my disease and treatment so intimately and so publically. It’s personal and I’m already struggling mightily. I’m also not happy that the opposition to this movement relies on fear rhetoric, misdirection, lies and manipulation to make his argument. I’d much rather debate the real policy of the issue and not subject myself to personal attacks. However, I do not find it hard to do the right thing at the right time, so my advocacy of I-182 is natural and necessary in my mind. I’m going to keep fighting for what I know is a compassionate law in our state. I will continue to be the voice for so many of us who need to be heard in this movement until election day. And then I’m going to take a nap because this is exhausting.

Please be sure to vote YES on I-182.

Give ‘Em Hell.

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