How New Jersey Treats Patients: A Tragedy, in One Act, and One Scene

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PHOTO: Andrew Jackson .


SCENE: A small prison cell, with just a bunk bed, a toilet and a sink.  A prisoner, dressed in ill-fitting khaki shirt and pants, sits on the bed. He speaks:

PRISONER:  Damn, here I am, locked up.

And it’s all for using my medicine: marijuana.

I flunked out of Drug Court and here I am.  I couldn’t believe that Mickey Mouse program.  The guy was just like the 3rd grade guidance counselor on ‘South Park’.  He actually said, ‘Drugs are bad, mmm-Kay?’

He tried to make me admit I was addicted to marijuana.  I told him, ‘No, I’m not addicted to it.  I just use it every day.’

‘Bad attitude,’ he said.  He thought I was playing with him.  I’ve got multiple sclerosis–MS, for Chrissakes.  I got MS every day.  I need my medicine every day.  It really helps with the pain and muscle spasms.  Better than anything, really.

Plus, I’ve heard it said it’s neuroprotective.  It can actually delay or even stop the progression of this incurable, disease, OK?

Why I can’t get into some legal, compassionate use trial of medical marijuana is beyond me.  You’d think it’d be available, but it’s not.  Not anywhere in the country.  The feds say it’s not their mission to research the benefits of marijuana—they only look for harms associated with its use.  They block research and then say we can’t use it because there’s not enough research.  It’s unbelievable.

So I grew my own.

Hell, I’m on disability.  I can’t work.  I can barely walk.  What little income I have goes for food and rent.  I can’t afford street prices for medical grade pot.  Besides, you never know what you’re getting on the street.  Or when it might be available.

So I had a little Indoor Grow Op going.  It wasn’t anything big, just ten small plants.  But it was nice—I had a steady supply of good stuff, and it cost me practically nothing.  Until I got busted, that is. The cops broke my door down, held me on the floor at gunpoint, trashed my place, took my plants and what little cash I had, and charged me with drug distribution.

I was facing ten years in prison for those plants—for growing my own medicine.

So I insisted on a trial, rather than accept a plea bargain of five years.  I figured what jury would convict me when they found out how sick I was?  Ha.  When I tried to tell the jury I had MS, the judge ruled it was inadmissible.  The prosecutor said, “What difference would it make if he had MS and he robbed a bank?  He still broke the law.”

Well, the jury found me not guilty of distribution, bless their hearts.  Maybe they didn’t completely disregard what the judge told them to.  And besides, I wasn’t doing it–there was never any evidence that I was selling the pot. But they did find me guilty of possession.

So the judge sentenced me to two years, not ten.  Then he said, since it was my first offense, he would give me a break by sentencing me to Drug Court.  All I had to do was complete the program and stay clean for two years—and by that I mean not use my medicine.  I tried.  I went to drug court with the heroin addicts, and the crack heads—people with serious addictions.  But I just couldn’t live a lie.  I couldn’t say I was addicited to marijuana because it wasn’t true.

So I flunked out of Drug Court and here I am–East Jersey State Prison in Rahway.  It’s a maximum security prison.  They sent me here because the medical care is supposedly good.  I guess it is.  I’ve already been seen by a neurologist a couple times and they started me on Avonex.  I could never afford that on the street.  I heard the prison officials don’t even want me here.  I’m just a drain on their resources.  It’ll cost them over $100,000 a year to keep me here and treat my MS.  So is the real reason I’m locked up to protect the profits of the pharmaceutical industry?

You know, I actually had an ID card from the state’s Medicinal Marijuana Program when I got busted.  When the cops found it they just laughed.  It didn’t mean anything to them.  It only cost me $20 for two years for the card, because I’m low-income.  So that wasn’t bad.  It just didn’t work.  The one dispensary in Montclair never called me for an appointment.  I probably couldn’t have afforded their pot, anyway.  I hear it goes for over $500 an ounce—plus tax.  Right, no other medicine is taxed in New Jersey except marijuana.  On the street you get better stuff for $300.  Of course, growing my own, it was practically free.

Yeah, I, uh, uh, uh…Sorry, that leg spasm again.  It’s pretty bad without the marijuana.  And when those pins and needles start, they just don’t stop.  You know, I’m legally blind in one eye.  (He covers his left eye)  Yeah, it’s this one.  I can’t see anything but shapes.  MS is nasty.  I’m getting more weakness in my legs now, too.  I can actually notice the difference since I had to quit using pot when I got locked up.  I just hope they don’t wheel me out of here, after two years of not taking marijuana.  I walked into here, and I’d like to walk out.

So this is why I get a private cell here, I understand.  I can’t work, or go to school here, or even go out to the main yard for recreation.  I’m disabled.  This is how New Jersey treats its disabled citizens.