On the upcoming memorial, and why medical marijuana patients need your support NOW

by Angela Goodhope

Robin Prosser was Montana’s leading medical marijuana patient-activist – until she took her own life last October. She also was a good friend of mine. I first got to know her when she went on a month-long hunger strike in 2002, to publicize her predicament, and I spent a lot of time with her over the years.

There are lots of reasons why I have been moved to focus my energies as a progressive political activist on the goal of ending the so-called “war on drugs.” Knowing Robin Prosser, knowing of her life and struggles, was one of these reasons – and I will forever be grateful for it.

Robin quite simply was oppressed to death by the government. The fact is that the “war on drugs” is really a war on people. It’s old-fashioned oppression of those among us that the government finds it convenient to dislike. It’s a war that’s meant to be waged, not won. Like the so-called “war on terror,” the “war on drugs” has functioned as an extraordinary financial boondoggle, spawning the prison-industrial complex and the world’s largest population of prisoners, most of whom permanently lose the right to vote, the right to college loans and government subsidized housing — even all veterans’ benefits. Our country imprisons more people for nonviolent use of drugs – mostly marijuana – than all of Europe, which contains more people, does for all crimes combined.

Robin Prosser suffered from systemic lupus for 22 years, a horrible medical condition in which her immune system literally attacked her own body’s organs, causing severe and almost constant pain. Meanwhile, she was allergic to most “traditional” drugs – and only certain strains of marijuana helped control her condition and make life bearable for her. That’s why Robin became an activist – she fought for the fundamental human right to be allowed to follow her doctor’s recommendation… without the added burden of having to fear arrest and prison.

Montana voters made medical marijuana legal in 2004, by the largest margin of victory ever achieved in a vote on this issue. Robin became the state’s first legally registered patient. But last March, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency intercepted a shipment of her medicine. The DEA agent in charge was quoted saying that he was “just protecting people from the state’s laws.”

Now, the Montana Department of Corrections is getting into the act. The department has proposed a new rule which would ban medical marijuana for anyone on probation or parole – regardless of the medical condition and the doctor recommendations involved. And already, even though the department hasn’t yet adopted this rule, low-level state bureaucrats are attempting to enforce it. I know of one patient who has been forced – against her doctor’s urgent advice – into a confined drug treatment center, where she is being denied ALL the pain medications her doctor prescribes, because the state’s probation officer thinks this patient is “addicted” to marijuana and has a drug problem. The only person involved in the situation who has the expertise – and the legal license – to practice medicine and make these judgments is the patient’s doctor. But still the war on medical marijuana patients continues, even at the state level.

I humbly write and post today to ask for your help and support.

There are somewhat more than 500 medical marijuana patients in Montana today, living in 33 counties, registered with the state health department based on recommendations from 131 doctors. All of them, despite Montana’s medical marijuana law, face unfair legal jeopardy.

There are three things you could do to help in the near-term. Please consider one or more of the following:

· Read the Montana department of corrections proposed rule banning medical marijuana by clicking here, pages 6-11. Write a letter – or send an email (see item #2 for the addresses) – before January 10, 2008, OPPOSING this rule. Please urge the state to defer to physicians on these issues, and oppose the department’s desire to practice medicine without a license, to apply the same ban to all patients no matter what their actual medical circumstances. We don’t need any more Robin Prossers, people moved to kill themselves because they can no longer endure the agony of their poor health, untreated with medical marijuana.

· Learn more about medical marijuana and drug policy reform issues in Montana. It’s easy to do – just sign up to receive periodic email news updates from Patients & Families United and Citizens from Responsible Crime Policy. These are the two Montana groups working full-time to change things for the better. We’ll take you off our lists if you decide the email updates aren’t of interest or use to you – but plug in and learn more first. Just email to request the updates at info@mtmjpatients.org and info@responsiblecrimepolicy.org.

· If you live anywhere near Missoula, you can show your solidarity and start learning more by attending a memorial service for Robin Prosser – this coming Wednesday, December 19, at 4 pm at University Congregational Church, 405 University Avenue. Afterwards, join Patients & Families United for a reception and meeting/update about civil rights for Montana’s medical marijuana patients. Feel free to call me to learn more, 406-493-0425.

For background on Robin Prosser’s story, here are some links of recent interest:

Reason Magazine on Robin’s death

Op-ed from the Missoulian on Robin

Matt Singer’s comments from Left in the West

Dailykos diary on Robin (one of several)

First report of Robin’s death, by Missoula’s Jessie McQuillan, the reporter who knew her best.

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  1. http://www.billingsgazette.net/articles/2008/01/14/opinion/guest/24-marijuana.txt

    Guest Opinion: DOC policy would violate medical marijuana law

    By EDWIN L. STICKNEY
    The Montana Department of Corrections is trying to ban the use of medical marijuana by anyone on parole or probation. This proposal is almost certainly illegal for numerous reasons. Among these is the fact that Montana’s medical marijuana law clearly allows anyone suffering from certain medical conditions, with a doctor’s recommendation, to use medical marijuana.

    The law specifies only one exception, and that is people who are “in” a corrections facility. That means that every other qualified patient, even those on probation or parole (who are not in prison or jail), can use medical marijuana as needed. As a state agency, the department’s highest obligation is to honor the state’s laws.

    But as a lifelong physician and past president of the Montana Medical Association, I see important medical and scientific reasons to be alarmed by what the Department of Corrections is trying to do. In my view, it represents a grave and unacceptable intrusion on the physician-patient relationship. Although it would affect an extremely small number of people, probably fewer than a dozen, it could affect them grievously.

    Most offensive is the fact that the proposal would apply a “one-size-fits-all” policy of medical treatment to all patients, putting the department in the position of practicing medicine without a license – while not knowing or caring about the details of any patient’s specific condition. No physician would make medical judgments without a thorough understanding of a patient’s condition. But the Montana Department of Corrections wants a pat bureaucratic policy to override the specific judgments of the trained and licensed physicians who have a history of knowing, diagnosing and working with the individual patients involved.

    Under the Montana law, medical marijuana is absolutely no different medically – or legally – from insulin for a diabetic, hydrodiuril prescribed for a patient with high blood pressure, or Percodan prescribed for a patient suffering from certain kinds of pain. The Department of Corrections doesn’t have the authority to deny patients any of these medicines, much less to deny one and not the others. The thinking behind this proposed rule is both incorrect and arbitrary.

    Having reviewed the literature reporting on the medicinal benefits of marijuana, I can only assume that the department is largely ignorant of the facts and is prey to generations of misinformation about marijuana. Suffice it to say that a wealth of research published in peer-reviewed, professional journals over the past several decades thoroughly documents marijuana’s remarkable values with respect to treating all the conditions approved in Montana’s law (as well as others).

    In addition, marijuana’s side effects have been proven to be mild and benign, particularly when compared to those of the alternative drugs for these conditions. Indeed, for some patients, marijuana is the only medicine that provides true relief. Marijuana is one of the safest medicines in the world.

    Under Montana law, the use of marijuana as medicine is a question we assign to physicians and patients – not the government. We made that decision four years ago, with 62 percent of the vote, the largest margin achieved in any of the 12 states that now recognize marijuana as an invaluable medicine for some people. We made the right decision, both medically and morally.

    Edwin Stickney lives in Billings




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