“You can buy it on the street, Tom,” he said. “When you get home, just go out and get some so Maggy can try it, okay?”
It was circa 1980. The “it” was marijuana, a “controlled substance” I had never bought and MJ had never even tried. The thin, gray-haired man in the pinstriped suit prescribing pot was a distinguished MD—a hematologist, to be precise. (“Maggy” was a term of affection he adopted early on in MJ’s treatment.)
Hematology is a specialized field of medicine dealing with diseases of the blood and related organs. More precisely, it is “The diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases of the blood and bone marrow as well as of the immunologic, hemostatic (blood clotting) and vascular systems.”
I had learned a lot about hematology by this time. It was the reason we were at the world-famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The reason I was thinking about marijuana and how to get my hands on some.
Maggy and I had spent much time at the Mayo Clinic in the seven years since she was diagnosed. She knew a lot more about deadly diseases than I did even before she knew she was the victim of one.
Maggy was a registered nurse, a straight “A” student and my favorite example of a young woman who might well have gone to medical school if affirmative action had started cracking the glass ceiling a decade earlier. She was teaching in a nursing school at a local hospital when she noticed a swollen node in her neck.
She stopped one of the physicians she knew in the corridor one day. Would he have a quick look? The doctor obliged, felt the small lump, asked her a question or two, then shrugged it off. Watch it, but probably no big deal.
Maggy was not so sure. She knew that swollen nodes were sometimes symptomatic of Hodgkin’s Disease. Our excellent family doctor wasn’t alarmed either. “But,” he said, “let’s not take a chance, let’s do a biopsy.”
The lab tests confirmed Maggy’s worst fears. That she had diagnosed her own condition was small comfort, but it probably added years to her life.
Maggy was in her mid-20s when the treatments—surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation—began. The first measure taken was to remove the spleen. One of the worst—repeated many times—was the chemo. It made her terribly sick. She barely weighed a hundred pounds but she was often so nauseous that she couldn’t eat and when she did couldn’t keep anything down.
At the time, the Mayo Clinic was testing the therapeutic effects of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the high-inducing chemical compound in cannabis. These tests were being conducted through an NIH grant that placed strict limits on the number of participants in the study. Unfortunately, the program was fully subscribed. Maggy was locked out.
And that’s how it happened that one of the nation’s leading blood doctors, an avuncular gentleman you would trust with your life (and Maggy did), urged me to break the law.
Exactly how I got my hands on marijuana (one dark night in a church parking lot) is another story, but I did get it. And Maggy did try it. But because I could only get it in the form of “weed” and because she had never smoked, it didn’t work. She could not inhale it without coughing and nearly choking. So I threw it away. (I know what you’re thinking, and it’s almost embarrassing now to admit it, but I really did throw it away.)
Which brings me to the point: Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently introduced a bill to decriminalize marijuana. That’s a first—the first time a leader of either party in Congress “has endorsed a rollback of one of the country’s oldest drug laws.” (The Washington Post, April 20, 2018) Note that it’s not the first time such a bill has been introduced; rather it’s the first time a party leader has led the charge.
The above-mentioned front-page WAPO article cited a January Pew Research Center survey that “found 61 percent of American supportive of legalization, with support reaching 70 percent among millennials.“
The Schumer bill wisely leaves it up to the states to decide. It would regulate marijuana advertising so kids can’t be targeted and would provide funding for research into the health effect of THC. Schumer says “it’s simply the right thing to do.”
If Maggy were alive today, I know she would agree. “Weed” didn’t work for her, but THC in another form might have.
Tom Magstadt writes and cooks in the log cabin of his dreams. He lives on a mountain in Ouray County and frequents Colorado Boy almost enough to qualify as a regular. Visit Tom’s blog at http://open.salon.com/blog/dakotakid