Don't Be Jealous of My Marijuana Prescription
Weed patients endure all kinds of violations of their basic rights.
"Hey, can I get a hit of that?" inquired a gentleman dragging on a cigarette nearby. I was standing in the smoking area puffing on my vape.
"Sorry. I'm a medical marijuana patient," I replied.
"That's so cool," he cooed. "You're soo lucky!"
"Or really, really unlucky," I replied. "Do you know how medically fucked up you have to be to qualify for cannabis in New Jersey?"
Variations of this scenario play out daily for patients around the country. And considering almost half of the US is still living under prohibition, I do acknowledge that I'm fortunate to have legal access. I need MMJ for a traumatic spinal injury I sustained while working as a hospice nurse. I haven't lived a day without pain since the accident four years ago, but MMJ helps. It's horrific that others are forced to turn to deadly prescriptions when a safer, more effective alternative is available.
But when an able-bodied, healthy human says that I'm "lucky" just because I can smoke pot, I have to stop and let them know the truth about the pot-patient lifestyle: We give up a lot of basic rights just to access our medication. It costs a freaking fortune; the financial burden is a massive hardship because health insurance doesn't cover any of it. Plus, when you smoke weed all day every day, tolerance dampens the euphoric fun of being high.
Out of the 8.9 million people living in my home state, only approximately 12,500 patients are enrolled in NJ's medical marijuana program. That's 0.14 percent—a tiny, frequently ignored fraction of the population. You have to be really sick, seriously injured, or close to dead to qualify. I would absolutely trade my MMJ card for the perfectly healthy body I once enjoyed.
As grateful as I am to have a medication that actually helps, I'm also frustrated by the limitations and discrimination associated with being an MMJ patient. Something as simple as going to my kid's hockey game (his team often plays others in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York) could result in a federal drug prosecution. Federal law prohibits patients from bringing their medicine to another state, which is oppressive when you live on a state border like I do. My medical status precludes me from participating in many of my children's activities due to logistics.
State laws can also restrict medical marijuana patients from driving at all—even when they aren't under the influence. Seven states have zero-tolerance, or DUID policies. This means driving with any amount of THC in the blood violates state law. But "THC levels in blood do not closely correlate with impairment,' says Thomas Marcotte, associate professor of psychiatry and co-director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis at the University of California San Diego. "Individuals who are frequent cannabis users—for example, medical marijuana users—may have detectable THC levels for many hours, and even days, after they last smoked…. In these individuals, zero tolerance would in effect dictate that MMJ users would not be able to legally drive."