William Britt

Expert Witness
By: Eugene Davidovich

Polio, a viral disease which can attack the nervous system leaving its victims paralyzed, has wreaked havoc on humanity for thousands of years. “Polio epidemics have crippled thousands of people, mostly young children… by 1910, much of the world experienced a dramatic increase in polio cases and frequent epidemics became regular events, primarily in cities during the summer months. These epidemics, which left thousands of children and adults paralyzed—provided the impetus for a “Great Race” towards the development of a vaccine.” (Wiki, 2010)

The vaccine was finally developed in the 1950’s by Jonas Salk and announced to the world in 1955, and the licensing and distribution of it to the masses began in 1962.

Three years earlier, William Britt was born in Long Beach, California, and was affected by this debilitating disease. Although having overcome the infection in childhood, Mr. Britt for decades has suffered from post-polio syndrome (PPS), symptoms of which include muscle weakness, extreme fatigue, and sometimes paralysis. Polio caused damage to his nerves in the brain and leg, and as a result he also developed epilepsy.

In a recent interview with NUG Magazine, Mr. Britt explained “it wasn’t easy growing up with polio, I had to wear a cast for over two years, kids would tease me and there wasn’t much I could do. This caused anger problems, depression, and eventually this anger would turn inward and make life even more difficult.”

He had to learn to live with a handicap, face daily prejudice from an early age, and constantly rely on prescription medication.
After graduating from Long Beach High School in 1977, Mr. Britt decided to follow his passion, which was construction, and focused on hard physical labor for as long as he could. In his mid twenties, however, the symptoms became too overwhelming and he was forced to anchor himself to an office and take up accounting, office administration and other non-physical tasks. For over ten years, Mr. Britt worked as an accountant clerk.

Unfortunately, sitting down for long periods of time caused severe pain as well, and eventually he was forced to leave this job also. Since disability insurance was not something he was receiving, Mr. Britt was desperate to earn a living and ended up doing part-time jobs around the neighborhood to stay afloat. Four years he struggled on his own, until finally he decided to move back in with his mom in 1997.

Medical Cannabis became legal in California for medical purposes in 1996. However, for years prior, Mr. Britt was familiar with its medicinal efficacy and used it to treat his symptoms.  Mr. Britt explained, “When I first discovered cannabis, I didn’t need to drink, I wasn’t as angry, I was in less pain, and the depression went away, it has truly changed my life.”

In the late nineties, Mr. Britt obtained his first recommendation from a physician to use medical cannabis. He met this doctor at a conference and eventually helped educate the doctor and open his eyes to the fact that many people in need can use this medicine, as well as how effective it is in reducing the harm caused by many prescription medicines out there.

Around the same period of time, Mr. Britt’s very close friend was dying of lung cancer and wanted to try medical cannabis. He brought his friend to one of the local medical marijuana activism meetings and introduced him to Marvin Chaves, who at the time was providing medical marijuana to qualified patients in Orange County. Marvin helped his friend with obtaining medicine, and in his last days Mr. Britt’s friend found relief from the pain and discomfort. For the first time in months, Mr. Britt saw his friend eat and keep down a full meal.

While his friend was dying of cancer, he saw Marvin be raided, arrested, and prosecuted for dispensing medical cannabis to other qualified patients. The local District Attorney charged Marvin in state court, collaborated with the Judge to deny Marvin the medical cannabis defense, and the Jury was not properly instructed on the law in his case. Seeing what the justice system did to Marvin, and how much the scales are tilted to the right pushed Mr. Britt into action. “I said, you know, I don’t care if it’s a ticket for a gram, as long as I hear about patients being arrested and prosecuted for this, I will be sitting in court for them. The court process is devastating for someone with a physical disability.”

He began attending all of the court cases related to medical marijuana that he could find. “By showing up and being there, I made a difference. I used to think one person can’t make a difference, but just by being there, having someone sitting next to the defendant letting them know they are not alone helped tremendously.”

Mr. Britt explained that he began to advise defense attorneys on the recent court rulings and the law, as well as refer them to the Americans for Safe Access (ASA) website which contains a large brief bank of cases and other useful legal information.

Attorneys were reacting positively to his advice, and saw that they could actually begin winning these cases instead of just getting defendants the best plea bargains.

Mr. Britt had unknowingly become an expert on medical marijuana law and a patient advocate. For over thirteen years he listened to testimonies from thousands of patients about how and why they use medical marijuana, examined the operations of numerous collectives and cooperatives across the state, received specific training from Chris Conrad (a world renowned cannabis expert), and attended ASA conferences.

In total, he has attended over 500 court cases and advised attorneys in several hundred. He reads police reports, reviews evidence, and in one case where a medical marijuana patient was charged with possessing one hundred pounds of cannabis, was able to help prove that in fact it was only 1.5lb of usable medicine. “After the stalks, stems, soil, and everything else unusable were removed, it weighed in as 1.5lb as opposed to 100lb.”

One of Mr. Britt’s most famous cases was People v. Kha, where he served a key role as a defense expert.

We asked Mr. Britt, having seen so many legal battles, what he thought would bring clarity to the law and reduce the number of these types of cases across the state. He explained, “Even with the new Attorney General guidelines, we still don’t have rules, they are just suggestions. The only things we have to go by are court decisions. What we need is a unified state guideline for the operation of dispensing collectives and cooperatives. If the state won’t set up a safe and affordable distribution, then they must recognize that people themselves are going do it.”

We went on to ask Mr. Britt how he thought the November legalization initiative would affect medical marijuana. He said “I think it will remove a lot of pressure from medical patients. If the initiative passes, it will put more pressure on collectives to operate as non-profits and lower the cost of medicine. It will only help our community! The ideal goal is to have safe, affordable access.”

Mr. Britt ended the interview on the following note, “I used to think one person can’t make a difference. Now I know one person can make all the difference in the world. I made a difference in hundreds of people’s lives. I know you can make a difference. I made a career out of helping people. The joy of helping people, the people I have met, the difference I have made, are well worth the work and time I have put into it. I urge every one of you reading this to go out, get involved, and make a difference.”

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