By: Pamela Jayne
If you have never had a personal experience with cancer, count your lucky stars, but donâ€™t hold your breath, because chances are, you or someone you love will eventually be sidelined by this wretched disease, be it directly or indirectly.
This month I met and had an enlightening conversation with Rob, a survivor of two bouts with squamous cell carcinoma. His surprising diagnosis was quickly followed by intense chemotherapy, radiation, and an extremely invasive and painful surgery called a radical neck dissection. Google it. Itâ€™s gnarly, I mean really gnarly. I am always amazed by how nonchalant the patients I meet are about their illnesses and the brutal treatments they endure just to survive. It became somewhat easier to understand when Rob said, â€œGoing through all of that really sucked, but on the other hand, I have to say it was a good thing because I am here. I am cured, as far as I know. Iâ€™m alive. But the side effects of those treatments push you to the edge of death. It is not a pleasant experience.â€ Of course, we are all aware of the side effects of cancer treatments. The constant nausea, vomiting, inability to eat and keep food down, depression, anxiety, and extreme fatigue are par for the course of a cancer patient, but those of us who have never experienced it firsthand will never fully understand what it is like to live day after day of complete misery.
On a positive note, while Rob was fighting his cancer, medical cannabis was readily available in the safe environment of reputable collectives. Sadly, this is no longer the case in San Diego. His advice to patients who are currently ill and have had safe access to their medicine taken away was this: â€œThe main thing is to not let themselves be made to feel like they are outlaws. Donâ€™t allow â€˜themâ€™ to push you out. We all have a voice in this society and the only way â€˜theyâ€™ will listen is if we participate. Their goal is to stop us from participating.â€ While Rob does not quite consider himself to be an activist, he does say, â€œI am opinionated and I vote.â€ As for how cannabis should be regulated and dispensed, he shares the common sense opinion of many others. â€œI believe it should be on the same level as beer and wine and sold in specific places like dispensaries.â€ In the nearly five years he spent going to collectives for medicine, Rob said he never had a negative experience. In fact, he spoke of how he often saw collective employees educate newly diagnosed patients who were new to the use of medical cannabis and in need of guidance. He said it was very obvious that most collective operators were experienced, knowledgeable, and actually cared about their patients. Speaking of patients, Rob said, â€œI was amazed by how â€˜normalâ€™ the people I saw in the dispensaries were. They were moms and dads, cousins, brothers, everybody. It isnâ€™t some weird slice of hipsters and hippies, or the liberal fringe. Itâ€™s everybody.â€
Because Rob is in the free and clear as far as cancer is concerned, our conversation turned to the politics of medical cannabis here in San Diego and also at the state and federal levels. When I asked him what he would like to say to Laura Duffy, Bonnie Dumanis, and others who have made it their mission to deprive patients of their preferred choice of medicine, he said, â€œThose people have a political agenda. Very rarely is a politician rewarded for being lenient on things that are considered to be crimes.â€ Sadly, he is right. Perception is reality, and as long as the vocal minority continues to spread propaganda aimed at vilifying cannabis, we will always have to fight tooth and nail for our right to choose how we treat our own ailments. It is absolutely absurd that patients are being made to feel like criminals. Rob went on to say that the forced closure of medical cannabis collectives is â€œa disaster. People are hurting; people will die because they will not be able to eat, because they cannot get their medication.â€ Once again, Rob is spot-on with this observation. It is the vulnerable who will suffer the most and our government seems to be just fine with that. As a former Libertarian turned staunch Democrat, he says, â€œIt is very disappointing to me what has happened on the federal level because I am a big Obama supporter. I have no doubt that if he did not want this to happen, it would not have happened. He may not have been the instigating factor, but I am still very disappointed.â€
Despite his justified disappointment, Rob remains hopeful and expects to see the full legalization of cannabis within ten years. He cited recent poll numbers that showed how most Americans approve of the use of cannabis as medicine, and almost as many are supportive of full legalization. He also wisely pointed out that we have been through this before with prohibition and the temperance movement. It didnâ€™t work then and it is not working now. â€œMy message is that people have to realize that right now we are on the dark side of the moon. The pendulum swings in both directions and we are now on the far side of the swing. When you look at it from there, it seems like a long way back, but it will happen sooner than you think. If you really believe, and your own personal experience tells you that you are right, then eventually the rest of the world will catch up. There have been many other groups of people who were demonized by society and had to fight to be recognized. The people who are always trying to push their interpretation of how the world should be are the ones we need to look out for. I donâ€™t know why they are so outraged and obsessed with how other people choose to live their lives.â€ I couldnâ€™t have said it better myself. Letâ€™s hope that 2012 marks the return of reason and compassion to the ever-changing landscape of cannabis regulation.