Free The Weed

LdyLunatic

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New Jersey -- By the time they discovered the cancer, it had spread through his [gastrointestinal] system; he got a major operation to rearrange his internal plumbing, and a weekly regimen of chemotherapy ... The combination of the cancer, the surgery, and the chemo — he had a fun time, oh yeah.”
Don McGrath speaks wearily of his son, Sean, diagnosed in 2002 with a rare bile duct cancer. When Sean died two years later, McGrath says, “I was a basket case. For about the first month. Then I got tired of being a basket case. So I guess I became an activist.”
Today McGrath is a tireless proponent of legalized medical marijuana. The businessman and his wife Gerry are convinced marijuana helped Sean live longer, and stave off the wasting syndrome that ravages so many cancer patients, as well as people with AIDS.
They are not alone. A survey by the Drug Policy Alliance indicates that 86 percent of New Jerseyans support the use of medical marijuana.
Support also comes from the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Nurses Association, the AIDS Action Council, and not-for-profit healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente. The New Jersey State Nurses Association supports “the legal access to marijuana for patients under the care of a licensed healthcare professional.”
Bigger guns — among them the American Medical Association and the National Institutes of Health — maintain a wait-and-see approach, and encourage more research.
Then there is Governor Jon Corzine. Corzine says if the proposed New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical marijuana Act passes the Senate Health Committee, perhaps as early as this fall, he will sign it, making New Jersey the 12th state in the country to enact such a measure.
Until then, use of the drug is still a crime, and the White House wants to keep it that way. At an informational hearing in Trenton on June 8, a spokesman for the Office of National Drug Policy insisted marijuana is a gateway drug with negligible medical value.
According to marijuana Myths & Facts, the campaign to allow pot for cancer patients and others is “a veiled effort to legalize the drug.” The federal government believes “the adverse effects of marijuana smoke on the respiratory system would almost certainly offset any possible benefit.”
Untrue, says McGrath. After five months of grueling treatment, and enough toxic drugs to stock a small pharmacy, Sean McGrath dropped from 148 to 97 pounds. “We thought we were going to lose him right there, then a doctor said, ‘Try marijuana.’”
At first, says McGrath, his musician son was reluctant. “He was a vegan, he was big on health food — no smoking, no drinking, no drugs.”
But Sean relented. “And it worked,” says McGrath. “It worked immediately.” Smoking marijuana restored Sean’s appetite, offset persistent nausea, and helped him tolerate his medication.
“He got back up to about 128 pounds,” says McGrath. “It enabled him to slowly get stronger, and then came the ability to fight the thing.”
Sean fought for two years. On a Sunday afternoon in June 2004, he was preparing for yet another nine-hour course of chemotherapy when his body simply failed him. At three in the afternoon, Sean McGrath died.
But Jason Carroll, who also smoked marijuana during his cancer treatment, survived. In October 1998, the 14-year-old from Burlington, N.J. was diagnosed with pineablastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. For months, Jason was bombarded by heavy-duty radiation and chemotherapy. His mother and father watched in horror as the six-foot athlete shrunk to a skeletal 101 pounds.
Says his father, Dan, “He was watching himself disappear, every day in front of the mirror.”
Attempts to feed Jason intravenously were futile, and maddening.
“They put feeding tubes up my nose, and I would throw it right back up, then they would shove it down again,” says Jason, now 21. “I couldn’t digest anything.”
He was prescribed Marinol, with synthetic THC, among other appetite stimulants. It was ineffective. Doctors warned if Jason continued to lose weight, his treatment would be suspended. His mother, Deidre, a licensed practical nurse, was frantic.
“All his life, we told him, don’t do drugs, don’t do drugs,” she says. “But I came home and said, ‘Jason, you’ve got to do this.’”
The teenager was reluctant. “My whole life, I never even smoked a cigarette,” says Jason. “I [had been] at the top of my game, a star baseball player. I wasn’t into all that.” But when he continued to sicken, Jason gave in.
“At first it was kind of weird,” he says. “Usually the first time you do it it’s with a friend hiding in the woods. Mine was with my parents.”
A week later, he had gained two pounds, and gained steadily for a year. “He stopped looking like somebody out of Schindler’s List,” says Dan.
By acquiring pot for their son, the Carrolls knew they were breaking the law. They say they were driven by desperation.
“I tried every other option first,” says Deidre. “I went through every other pill, and nothing worked. I would have done whatever I had to do. I would have gone to the moon.” The Carrolls also asked Jason’s grandparents to supply the drug if they were arrested or lost custody of their son.
Not everyone was behind them. “I’ve have arguments with family members,” says Dan. “Well, I don’t care how anti-this and anti-that you are. All I know is what I saw with my own two eyes. It helped my son.” Within a year, Jason was cancer-free. He has been in remission for five years.
Don McGrath believes the biggest obstacle to medical marijuana in New Jersey and across the country is not the federal government but the pharmaceutical industry. “If you legalize marijuana, then maybe you don’t need all these heavyweight drugs,” he says. “You can grow marijuana yourself. It’s a weed!”
“The biggest thing lobbying against this is the drug companies,” agrees Dan Carroll. “And why? They don’t want drug sales to go down.” Carroll says one of Jason’s anti-nausea drugs — just three pills a day — cost $2,800 a month. One of Sean’s medications, “a Martha Stewart-type” drug manufactured by Imclone, was “$10,000 a pop,” says his father.
A registered nurse at Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point says, “Anything that helps the patient is OK in our book. The problem is, marijuana is only available on the street, so there’s a quality issue, and obviously we cannot [recommend] it. But if it works for you, use it, that’s great.”
Despite powerful opposition, Don McGrath thinks momentum in New Jersey is on his side. “That’s why the White House is bringing all the troops out on this one. If New Jersey goes, then New York will go over the edge, and that will put a lot of pressure on Pennsylvania, California, Oregon ... How much longer can the government hold out?”
Ken Wolski, RN, chief executive of the Coalition for Medical marijuana New Jersey, shares that optimism. “We have too many things in our favor. We have the polling numbers. We have compassion, which says no patient should suffer needlessly. The real question is, why isn’t it legal already?”
Legal or not, Deidre Carroll says she would not hesitate to get marijuana for Jason if his cancer recurred. “I would do it again. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed. ****, no. My son is standing right in front of me.”
Marjorie Preston is a freelance writer who has been published in Ladies Home Journal, Fitness, and New Woman magazines.
Note: With support statewide, New Jersey could pass a pro-medical marijuana bill this year.
Source: Atlantic City Weekly (NJ)
Author: Marjorie Preston
Published: July 12, 2006
Copyright: 2006 Atlantic City Weekly
 

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