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Meds Not Feds

North Carolinians in need of medical marijuana don't deserve to suffer any longer

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A Charlotte woman named Louise* was diagnosed with terminal, inoperable breast cancer in January 2015. Her daughter Thelma* has been with her through chemotherapy and other treatments and watched helplessly as the meds she's been given have made her sick.

One day, while indulging in some retail therapy between chemo sessions, Louise had a bad reaction. "I saw her face turn red and she started sweating. She told me she felt sick and was going to throw up and went and dry heaved in the store bathroom." said Thelma, who was carrying around a marijuana cookie that day. "I took her to the car, fed her the cookie and next thing I knew, she was begging for Arby's."

Despite medical marijuana still being illegal here in North Carolina, some people who need it are risking their freedom to get it.

Thelma laughs while telling me about the Arby's request, but the pain in her voice is palpable.

"Now I always try to come prepared with a cookie. It helps her quality of life. She gets to relax and giggle at Japanese television — much needed therapy for someone giving death the finger."

The first medical marijuana legalization bill was proposed to the North Carolina House of Representatives in 2001, and a new one has been proposed every session since. In the meantime, soldiers with PTSD, cancer patients going through chemo or grandparents with Alzheimer's continue to suffer.

A Public Policy Poll taken last year shows 69 percent of North Carolinians across the age and ideological spectrum support legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, eight points higher than the national average.

Lucy* had severe anxiety. She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2015. Soon thereafter, she took a trip to Denver and visited a dispensary based on a friend's recommendation: "I entered it and it was clean and set up like a waiting room in a doctor's office. I went in and said straight up, 'I have severe anxiety. Sometimes I can't even get out of bed. What would you recommend?' He told me he was a veteran who suffered from PTSD and when he got back from Iraq, he was on 11 different medications. Since legalization, he is down to three medications and vapes three marijuana strains. He recommended two for me."

The effect?

"It wasn't even like I was messed up off of it," Lucy says. "I could just function without worrying about a million different things. For the first time in my life, my thoughts slowed down and I could think clearly."

Getting the right recommendation is essential, especially for those seeking a help with anxiety issues. Some strands of marijuana are known to increase anxiety. Lucy says since being back home in Charlotte, she still purchases marijuana, but she never knows 100 percent what she's getting. "It's not as effective and it's kind of a crap shoot. I wish there was the same level of accountability there is in states that have legalized."

If you find yourself with a health condition that you think marijuana could help, but don't know where to begin to obtain it, the experts say to start at home. It could be difficult to talk to family members because of the illegality and social stigma, but people — especially young people — you trust are your best bet.

According to the latest available statistics, about 20 percent of 18-25 year olds in North Carolina smoke marijuana on a regular basis. The odds are you know at least one of them and they'd want to help you. It's simply a matter of letting them know you're interested. Good thing to know: North Carolina law says you cannot be jailed for possessing less than a half-ounce of marijuana if it's your first offense. However, you can be arrested for subsequent misdemeanor offenses, and if you're black, statistics show you're far more likely to be.

What not to do: go into a head shop and ask, post on Craigslist or social media or give a stranger money and wait for them to return with the product.

What else not to do: Wait even one more year for lawmakers to help you.

*Name has been changed, like I do each year in the 4/20 issue. Hopefully, next year that won't be necessary, but it probably will.

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