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It's High Time for Compassionate Change


When my dad retired from the military, he did two things. First, he grew facial hair. Then, he put on weight. He was tall, so it was a slow gain, but his round face grew rounder, even apparent under the slightly unkempt beard and mustache.

The weight fell off when he fought lung cancer for three years, especially when the chemotherapy started. He couldn't hold down food. The doctor, talking out of the side of his mouth that wasn't his professional position, suggested to my parents that cannabis could help — if they had ways to procure it.

There are always ways, but they aren't straightforward. My dad refused my help and for me to get involved in any way, even by just asking friends I knew who smoked. He felt there was too much risk if I got caught buying it or bringing it to him as I drove back from college. For him, it was a poison to my future as much as it was a balm to his suffering.

New Mexico enacted the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, for medical marijuana, on July 1, 2007. My dad, age 49, died a month later.

The younger generations get worn down and resistant to participating in a system that seems to move so slowly and feels to be rigged against an outcome of progress, even those that end with a compassionate easing of pain. Even with the slow steps toward medical cannabis, the barriers to verifying a sickness were out of reach for many: those who could not afford the doctor visits, those whose diseases didn't "qualify" for using cannabis to alleviate physical pain, or those who could not sufficiently "prove" their mental pain.

New Mexico just legalized recreational marijuana on April 1, and since then, I've gone to two shops to scout out the wares with a friend. The first location was like a hipster coffee shop, with bright light filtering through a renovated house and a young, nose-ringed "budtender," as they've been coined, giving us tips. It looked like it should be a place I could order a high-priced latte, a drug I actually consume, instead of the ones that were newly legal.

The second shop had a line. We waited outside while a stone-faced cowboy watched us from the patio of the burger joint next door. I told my friend I really wanted to know what the cowboy thought of the change he was watching unfold. Then I said, "My dad would have loved this."

In the same conversation about the birds and the bees I got when I was a kid, my parents explained that people did drugs for the same reason they had sex: it felt good. He had done pot and looked forward to doing it again when he retired. I don't think he imagined that he'd smoke it in the last months of his life to ease his pain and give him an appetite during the time he had left.

As explained in "The True Story Behind NORML and the Politics of Marijuana" by Patrick Anderson, Lynn Pierson, a 26-year-old Albuquerque cancer patient, advocated for the passage of a model medical marijuana program in New Mexico in 1978. "Pierson stalked the halls of the state capitol, personally talking to each of the nearly one hundred legislators. 'Don't play politics with my life,' he told them."

Due to Pierson's efforts the New Mexico legislature had passed the Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act in 1978, establishing the Lynn Pierson therapeutic research program. It still needed federal approval. Three hours after Pierson's death, an FDA official called the New Mexico health department and said its medical-use plan had finally been approved. Then, three months later, the FDA withdrew its approval. It took almost another year for the program to get going.

That program ended in 1986 when the funding dried up. The fight to reignite the cause took another 21 years.

And yet here we are in New Mexico, 44 years later, able to walk in and make our choices freely, enjoying relief from a weed whose seeds were planted by those who hoped that their suffering shouldn't be the norm for the future. While I might continue to wish for a latte instead of a joint, at least now, another son or daughter can pick up some pot for a dying parent to ease their pain, without the guilt of the parent spoiling any of the time they have left together.

Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma.