One Woman's Case for Medical Marijuana

Feb 4, 2016

Advocates of medical marijuana scored a small victory this week in Richmond. A Senate committee approved a bill that would legalize an oil derived from the marijuana plant to treat cancer. Studies suggest cannabidiol may help to fight breast, colon, brain, lung and other cancers while reducing the side effects of conventional chemotherapy. The news pleases one Virginia woman who is anxious to have legal access.

We paid a visit to Rita’s tiny country house on a rainy morning - meeting her vocal neighbors - a large flock of chickens and roosters - on the way inside. 

Perched on her bed, surrounded by family photos and memorabilia from her days in a popular local rock band, Rita recalled being diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.

54-year-old Rita relies on marijuana to help her fight cancer.

“It had gone to my sternum. It was in my glands.  It had gone too far for chemo and radiation and surgery and stuff.”

She was only 46 when she entered hospice, expecting to die.  Instead, she lived eight years - taking herbal supplements and pain pills that took away her appetite and made her feel sick.

“And I started losing like a pound to two pounds a day.”

The doctor gave her pills to control the nausea, but they knocked her out, so Rita turned to marijuana - a drug she had smoked in her youth.  Suddenly, her appetite was back.

“Being a spiritual person myself, I really strongly believe that it was a gift from God.  The fact that people abuse it - sit down and smoke it all day long and  don’t work jobs - I don’t know anybody who does that.  I don’t see it as a gateway drug, because we were surrounded by all sorts of drugs when we were in the band.  We never had a desire to do any of them, and I think you would have less crack use, less alcoholism.  (alarm goes off) That’s my med alarm.  Four times a day I take a fistful, so there’s just no way I could keep those down without smoking a little pot.”

She doesn’t like doing things that are illegal, and she’s heard about places that have legalized medical and recreational marijuana. 

“I looked at these other states whose crime rates are down.  There’s no deficit. There’s a surplus on the tax front. I just look at the way they’ve handled it, and I don’t see why Virginia couldn’t benefit.”

This week, in Richmond, members of a senate committee approved a bill that would make it legal for cancer patients to use cannabidiol, an oil derived from the marijuana plant. 

The director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’ Virginia chapter cheered, but Pam Novy thinks the state would do well to pass a more comprehensive medical marijuana bill that includes people with chronic pain, PTSD and other conditions that have been successfully treated with pot.

"I looked at these other states whose crime rates are down. There's no deficit. There's a surplus on the tax front. I just look at the way they've handled it, and I don't see why Virginia couldn't benefit."

“There are, in fact, 24 states that have medical marijuana, and some of the findings out of these states is really fascinating.  For example, Massachusetts has looked at treatment for opiate dependence, and what they found is that people who were able to use medical marijuana stayed in treatment and were more successful in treatment. It may help in curbing the heroin and opiate addiction problem we have in the state of Virginia.”

The cannabidiol bill now goes to the full senate, and - if approved - on to the house, where it must pass through a subcommittee that has already sidelined every marijuana reform proposed. 

Rita would call her delegate if she thought it would help.

“Do they really listen?  I don’t think so.”

But with polls showing a huge majority of Virginians supporting medical marijuana, a supportive senate could lead some members of the House to change their minds.