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Medical marijuana a healing plant for medically needy

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A. Melvin McDonald

Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2013 1:45 am

I was a prosecutor with the Maricopa County Attorney's office from 1970-1974.

I served seven years as a Maricopa County Superior Court judge after leaving the County Attorney’s office.

In 1981, I was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve as U.S. Attorney. The top priority of my office from 1981-1985 was fighting the drug war. While serving as United States Attorney, I was a member of the Advisory Committee to U.S. Attorney General William French Smith and was involved in setting national policies and priorities.

It would be natural, based on my background, to assume that I would oppose Arizona’s voter-approved medical marijuana law, which allows people with certain medical conditions to have access to medical marijuana through state-licensed regulated dispensaries. But sometimes it takes extraordinary circumstances to get people to see ordinary truths. And that is the case with me.

So here is my story.

In 1997, my 14-year-old son was hit by a car and thrown 125 feet across a busy intersection in Gilbert, Arizona. He sustained severe and permanent brain damage. After the near-fatal accident, the brain injury evolved into frequent and massive epileptic seizures. These seizures have been regular occurrences for the past 16 years. One of his many seizures has left him with uncontrollable shaking in his left arm.

Some of the world’s finest neurologists and neurosurgeons have prescribed various combinations of approximately 30 different medications. His condition has been evaluated and treated by some of the top experts in the country, from UCLA Medical Center to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale to Barrow’s Neurological in Phoenix.

In 2003, the seizure condition became so severe that my wife and I and our son agreed to have a portion of his brain removed in hopes this might stop his agony. We were told it had two-thirds chance of working. Unfortunately, we were in the one-third.

In the early years, following the accident, my son was in a state of constant nausea and would go days at a time without eating. Nothing worked, not even the prescription drug Marinol.

We learned early on that despite the significant doses of various medications, nothing stopped the seizures and nothing stopped the nausea, which arose from both the seizures and the medications. His weight dropped from 180 pounds to 119 pounds because of the severe nausea. He would go days at a time without eating.

Nothing worked until a friend with severe pain issues gave him some marijuana, which proved to be the only substance that would curtail the nausea. This was prior to Arizona’s medical marijuana law.

So there I was - the man appointed by President Reagan to head the drug war in Arizona - with pot being used to help my son find some peace and to have some semblance toward a quality of life.

My wife had to be resourceful to gain access to marijuana. But if you are a parent, if you are a mother, is there anything you won’t do to aid your ailing child? The choice for her was brutally harsh – find ways to give your son life-saving marijuana so he could eat and diminish the nausea knowing that her loving help for our son could potentially result in criminal prosecution.

When Arizona voters approved medical marijuana in 2010, our family rejoiced. Now our son could purchase higher quality and effective marijuana for what is truly a legitimate reason. My wife could drive him to state approved dispensaries and purchase medically approved marijuana cultivated for that precise medical need – nausea.

Now my wife and son are faced with the possibility of returning to the underground, to those days of uncertainty, his medical purgatory, a hellish quality of life. There is a bill in the Legislature that aims to revote and repeal the medical marijuana law.

They say the jury is still out on marijuana’s medical benefits, that there are too many problems with the program. To those proponents of repeal, I say – come and see and speak with our family and my son. Tell him there are no benefits. Tell his Mom and Dad.

In 16 years, with the greatest medical and pharmaceutical minds in the country, no one has found a plant that diminishes the nausea like marijuana.

There are plenty of folks in Arizona like me, who don’t fit the profile of a medical marijuana advocate. We are here and we will use our voices to fight for people like my son. Because to take away my son’s marijuana would be like taking insulin away from a Type 1 diabetic, or taking pain medications away from a cancer patient because there are some out there who abuse pain medications.

Reform the system where it should be, but do not condemn my family and my son to a life of desperation rather than decency. Don’t criminalize behavior of my wife, other mothers and fathers, or patients, who seek only to use the one plant that gives them some quality of life.

To take the one healing plant from the medically needy and criminalize their desperate need for relief provided my professionally cultivated marijuana would be the real crime.

  • Discuss

Welcome to the discussion.


  • kellywilson posted at 3:32 am on Mon, Aug 25, 2014.

    kellywilson Posts: 1

    The early warning symptoms of arthritis (Arthritis leads) needs to monitored closely as this may prevent severe pain and suffering of elderly people in their golden retirement age. Elderly people may have activities or hobbies that they would normally enjoy doing in their retirement age however due to the severe arthritis pain in the knee joint, hip joint and other joints, they are restricted in their movement and confined to a small space.

  • MsDebbieLee posted at 6:23 am on Mon, Nov 25, 2013.

    MsDebbieLee Posts: 1

    I applaud your courage, yet am disappointed in your short sightedness. There is a major flaw with the current AZ MMJ law, and it's called the 25 mile rule. As you so eloquently pointed out, there are many whose physical condition leaves them little choice but to use medical cannabis to have any type of a reasonable quality of life. Yet so many of us have been suffering for years, used up most if not all of our savings and are trying to live from one Social Security Disability check to the next. Items like food, clothes, and entertainment take a back seat to rent, utilities and prescription medications. This leaves little to none for purchasing cannabis from a dispensary. The ability to grow your own helped many of us with legal access, without the high price. I've heard all the claims about the added potential for abuse with this option, but that factor is still there, even if you are purchasing from a dispensary. The fact is, those that go through all the trouble of getting authorized to cultivate are not the kind that disregard the laws. Rather, they tend to be very concerned about being law-abiding citizens. I'm glad that your family has been fortunate enough to be able to purchase the quality and quantity that is sufficient for treating your son's illness, but please understand that many of us are not. With the gradual lose of grow rights sweeping through the card holders this year, many are now facing the choice of continuing to treat pain and other symptoms with a safe and effect medication, illegally obtained or going back to the poisonous effects of the narcotics that we had freed ourselves from or at least were able to reduce the amount we had been taking to a more reasonable level. It seems so unfair that the only ones that will continue to have a better quality of life, will be those that can afford to pay for it. The rest of us, the poor and sick, that this law was suppose to be for, will be left wondering why we even supported it in the first place, since it so clearly does not do enough for us.

  • elizaprigs posted at 10:23 pm on Tue, Nov 19, 2013.

    elizaprigs Posts: 2

    Like alcohol, any legal intoxicant still needs to be regulated. Even if legalized, marijuana use in the workplace should probably be generally discouraged. Medical marijuana dispensaries are on the rise in those states that allow them. As of July 2011, there were more dispensaries in the city of Denver than there were omnipresent Starbucks stores. Marijuana dispensaries require staffs, as do pot farms and a dozen other cottage industries that legalization will foster.

  • SamFox posted at 2:17 pm on Sat, Feb 16, 2013.

    SamFox Posts: 1

    Mr. McDonald, you are a brave & courageous soul! Thank you for this article!!

    At the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition website there are many others from law enforcement like you.

    People need to study the history of MJ prohibiton. You will find that prohibition of MJ is based on lies, deception, greed & inflammatory fear based propaganda. Same is true today, though many are now learning the truth.

    Find out how WR Hurst manipulated, lied & deceived to bring about MJ prohibition. How WR used Harry Anslinger in the deception. How an AMA doctor who opposed MJ prohibition was treated during Congressional hearings. How Hurst lied to Congress & the US public.

    Learn that Hurst was not after smoking cannabis, but rather industrial hemp to protect his interests in his timber lands & investments in the then fledgling DuPont Chemical Company. How WR tricked people into thinking that cannabis & hemp were the same.

    Reefer Madness was NOT a set of documentaries. :-) It's fear based up front in your face lies & distortion.

    Learn how anti-MJ laws were used to discriminate against blacks & Hispanics. Find out what our Founders had to say about Indian Hemp. Bibles & many of our founding documents were written on hemp paper.

    Those that support MJ prohibition are very likely to be shills for the Rx drug pushers of drugs whose side affects may include your death. NO ONE has ever died from an MJ overdose. Now, Rx drugs kill more than illegal substances & some 6000% more than firearms. All the synthetic industry fears hemp. Henry Ford made a car from hemp..see at YouTube.

    Also look up Run From The Cure: The Rick Simpson Story. And Hemp For Victory, a US govt short film that got away from them, though they tried to cover the film up.

    Then figure out who has the most to lose from the RE-legalization of medical cannabis & industrial hemp. Follow the $$.

    The war on some drugs is more dangerous than the substances prohibited. More have died as a result of the war on individual liberty than illegal drugs.

    We can't afford the $ cost & the loss of liberty this deadly war brings us.

    It is high time we RE-legalize cannabis & hemp. [Pun optional, :-) ]

    I salute you Mr. McDonald! May Nature's God be with your son & your family.


  • drbob posted at 12:57 am on Fri, Feb 15, 2013.

    drbob Posts: 15

    Mr. McDonald. Given your experience in the justice system as prosecutor and judge, attendant to the experience of parent to a child benefiting from medical marijuana AND being equally aware of current growing and distribution abuses, what legislative or other reforms do you recommend. If truly medical in nature should distribution be like any other medically prescribed and Federally controlled drug: legitimately prescribed and dispensed through a licensed pharmacist rather than some home grown mom and pop outlet or street corner vendor where abuses abound...the number and nature of which keep you and I in business for many years. The fault of this use not use argument is not medical marijuana itself, but the way in which those in need receive it. Drug abuse among our citizens is epidemic, why make it worse?

  • RYX1 posted at 8:28 pm on Thu, Feb 14, 2013.

    RYX1 Posts: 3

    The war on marijuana. The governmemt once made alcohol illegal after more then a ten year battle the government won and do I have to remind anybody how.