Have We not Learned Yet That Cannabis is Medicine?

By Cori Petersen


California was the first state to pass a compassionate care act (Prop 215) in direct conflict with Federal government statute, on the 5th of November, 1996. At the time, there was so much opposition to this action that one of the core organizers, Dennis Peron, was bullied into relocating for a bit, once Prop 215 was passed. After repeated vetoed attempts to introduce a medical Cannabis program to the California legislature, Peron went to the voters, eventually forcing then Governor Pete Wilson to sign the voter initiative. What would motivate someone to go to those lengths? Results.

Like Peron, many individuals over the course of human history have found not only relief but restorative benefits from Cannabis use for themselves and for those around them. The “black-market” has gotten a bad name, but that is exactly where people today re-discovered these benefits. People like Peron, who had watched friends and loved ones come back from the brink of death or simply be relieved of pain by the use of Cannabis, during his time selling it illegally.

The drug war has claimed many victims along the way by denying access to the plant. Shortly after this historic Medical Marijuana Program Act (SB 420) was being initiated, individuals were still being arrested, charged and more for the use of Cannabis, regardless of why they used it. One case in point was the senseless death of Peter McWilliams, who was ordered by the court to stop all Cannabis use after his arrest for cultivation. Blissfully unaware that the conflicted state-wide law would not protect him from the DEA, McWilliams used Cannabis openly.

“Unable to keep down the life-saving prescription medications, by November 1998, four months after my arrest, my viral load soared to more than 256,000. In 1996 when my viral load was only 12,500, I had already developed an AIDS-related cancer… Even so, the government would not yield. [They] continued to urine-test me. If marijuana were found in my system, my mother and brother would lose their homes and I would be returned to prison” Peter said.

McWilliams succumbed to his illness in June of 2000, having been denied access to a substance which had already saved his life once, but sadly, he would not get a second chance.

In 2003 a state senate member introduced “California Senate Bill 420” that would clarify the scope of the Medical Marijuana Act, allowing for safe access to Cannabis for more of our most precious population.

End of life treatment is where Cannabis broke ground as a last resort. Then fought for as first line of defence against life-threatening illnesses Cannabis gained ground. Only to discover that that those suffering at the beginning of life with rare and fatal epilepsy can be given a quality of life never seen before.

Middle Ground

Proposition 215 appeared as a crack in the dam, not quite the bursting that activists had imagined it would be. In fact more than 15 years would pass before DEA would be notified that Medical Cannabis patients were no longer a priority anymore.

Since most countries had restrictive policies regarding Cannabis, in order to seek relief parents turned towards moving to locations where Cannabis was legally available. Slowly more places became an option. Some parents that made these choices were undaunted by the state-federal conflict that arose, many were unaware of it, and still others had nothing to lose.

It may surprise those living in British Columbia (known for BC Bud, and home to Vamsterdam), that in the late 1990’s some families left Canada for access and freedom in California. One mother, Cheryl Rose, left in order to start Cannabis therapy for her daughter Hayley’s severe seizure disorder.

Although the BC Compassion Club Society had already opened up in Vancouver when she left, it was not advertised, so those most in need could not find it. However, Prop 215 had made international headlines directing many families to move to the land of safe access to Cannabis. Later a rare and special ratio of CBD to THC in a Cannabis strain would be found right here in BC and given a special name in honour of Hayley Rose due to it’s antiepileptic properties.

New Era

Now it seems like a race to the finish line for the courts and the politicians. Political and public attitudes have changed. Education, medical results, tireless activists, moms and dads have gotten us there. In Canada there are several court cases either just decided or pending that might forge the way into a new era of Cannabis, but will political movements get us there first?

Relief Found Today

If the last days of alcohol prohibition shed any light on what the last days of Cannabis prohibition may look like, we are in for a bumpy ride. Legislation has not caught up with the people, as Vancouver City Council member Elizabeth Ball said during the recent regulations proposed for Medical Cannabis outlets, “Government rolls over slowly like an elephant.”

A large percent of the Canadian public think that Cannabis is legal, or at least Medical Dispensaries are. Much like those tragically caught ignorant of the Federal conflict in the early days of California’s Cannabis renaissance, many Canadians are leading their family into unknown or hostile territory without even knowing it.

All that being said about the perils faced today, the number of those that has access to Cannabis is larger than ever. No longer are there very, very few in the know or getting help. The conversation has changed.

What will the happen next?

Even though hardships faced by established Cannabis patients today are not what they were, that is no reason to take it easy. Parents of children taking Cannabis therapy still face many struggles with in the new found access. Since many people feel that Cannabis legalization is already on its way, then why do anything?

More important than ever, now is the time to be involved in shaping the future of Cannabis. If those who care about Cannabis do nothing about to contribute to the laws being created, it will be reflected in their content.