Vote for I-182 to ease Montana patients' suffering

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Billings Gazette

This election, Montana voters will be deciding the future of medical marijuana in Montana. This is quite literally a life and death issue, and I hope that my fellow Montanans will vote with compassion by casting their ballots with a yes on I-182.

This issue is personal for me. My wife, Peggy, has suffered from multiple sclerosis for 37 years. None of the medications prescribed to treat her excruciatingly painful leg spasms have worked. Tears come to her eyes when the spasms strike. Painful, sleepless nights occur several times a month.

This summer, upon recommendations from two neurologists, we prepared to file paperwork to get my wife registered as a medical marijuana patient. Unfortunately, the timing was bad. New restrictions, passed by the Montana Legislature in 2011 under SB 423, went into effect at the end of August. Overnight, thousands of Montanans lost access to the medicine they’ve been using at the recommendation of their doctors. My wife's last resort for relief from her pain was gone.

The Legislature overreacted to the abuses we saw in 2010, like the cannabis caravans. It’s unfortunate that a few bad actors sparked a massive backlash by the Legislature. Those abuses were corrected well before SB 423 went into effect by proper enforcement of the law. But five years later, sick and dying patients are paying the price for the Legislature’s heavy-handed and politically motivated decision.

Of 12,730 registered patients in Montana, 11,850 lost access to a provider. That’s 93 percent of Montana’s registered medical marijuana patients. It’s worth noting that patients who did not yet get their registration are not counted in that tally. Those patients have given up, and are waiting for the voters to decide on I-182. These are Montanans with debilitating conditions like cancer, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, chronic pain and multiple sclerosis. These are our friends, neighbors and loved ones. In my case, this is my wife.

If your loved one was suffering and medical marijuana offered relief, wouldn’t you want them to have that option? These days, very few of us can count ourselves so lucky as to not have been touched by cancer or other debilitating and life-threatening conditions. Keep that in mind when opponents disrespect suffering people by insinuating that medical marijuana patients either don’t need the medicine or aren’t really sick.

This is not just a choice of whether patients use medical marijuana or not. This is often a choice between medical marijuana and other medicines that either do not work or come with dangerous side effects. Many patients who have lost their access to medical marijuana are now turning to opioid pain killers to manage their pain.

In a time when our nation faces a prescription opioid overdose epidemic, it makes no sense to close off a safe and effective alternative. Still, big pharma continues to oppose medical marijuana to protect their opioid sales and to generate even greater profits by marketing expensive new drugs to combat the side effects of their opioid medications.

When casting your ballot, please think of my wife and the thousands of other Montanans who are needlessly suffering. You have the power to save lives and ease suffering this election by voting yes on I-182.