Illegal Medicine: The Struggle of A Southern Medical Marijuana Activist

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I find it surreal, this world I live in…a world that feels like a dream of how the future is not supposed to be. Ours is a world full of people who are suffering, living with pain that could be eased by a plant… a simple, beautiful flower. But they may not be allowed to use it, depending on where they live.


Depending on where a person lives, for some the plant is celebrated and used freely, without fear of reprisal. For others, it could mean years behind bars. And I was born one of the latter places. I live in a state where most people believe marijuana, or cannabis, is bad.


In Alabama, miseducation is rampant. Willful ignorance abounds. People still fear this miraculous plant. I have been locked up just for being near it,  and there is something sickening and absurd about that, especially when that “bad” plant can stop chronic pain and ease the suffering of people just like my son.


On New Year’s Day 2014 , I saw a news report about Colorado celebrating the first recreational marijuana sales. But there I was,  for the third day, sitting alone at a table in an Alabama county jail, 1600 miles away, being held on one million dollars bond.


Most murderers don’t get a million dollar bond.


I had never hurt anyone. I knew I didn’t belong there, having other people in control of my freedom, even of my rationed toilet paper. It was another world. The bench where I slept had a 2″ mat and no pillow, and the lights would only dim at night for about six hours. Everything was metal and hard. There was nothing soft anywhere. There was the never-ending cycle of trying to talk over the TV, then someone turning it up. I dreaded sleep because it was physically painful.


The toothpaste was a tube of straight fluoride that tasted like glue. It was always cold. I had my uniform and one blanket. No one could have two blankets. I was allowed a long sleeve shirt and socks, if I bought them from a corporation that runs the jail and sells them for twice the price they should be. My family was not allowed to bring me things from home. Not even socks. Everything I needed, including over the counter medications, was expensive and hard to get. Two Ibuprofen costs me $6, if and when the medical staff decided to give them to me. I didn’t get many. There is no such thing as a free phone call anymore.


Welcome to prison for profits.


Of course, there are a lot of people who don’t care that my back hurt or that the toothpaste was poison. I was in jail, and I must have deserved to be there. The facts didn’t matter. Not to the other inmates, the guards or the media. They didn’t matter to a lot of people. Even people who stood by the cause suddenly forgot who we were once were locked up.


I still suffer from medical problems that stem from having my prescriptions taken away and then substituted with mystery meds. I was only there two weeks, but it was a long two weeks. I still dream about it. I still think about things on a jail schedule: 4:30 breakfast…. 11:00 lunch… the clanging and the TV noise… the smell… the eternal cold. Being locked up changes a person, especially someone who was ripped out of her living room and put behind bars.


And who has the authority to do that? Well the short answer is the people who carry a gun and a badge, issued by the county in my state. When I saw them I forgot I had rights.


The police took everyone in the house to jail, including my son. I don’t think they knew they were arresting a Crohn’s patient… but it didn’t take them long to figure out they didn’t want to hold him. He was out within 12 hours, because he is sick. He looks sick. He was sick enough to send home, but they still charged him with trafficking, just like the rest of us.


What happens now? We don’t know. We wait. We are all victims of the War on Drugs. We are in the system now, labelled, our pictures all over Google and the hometown newspaper. Nothing we ever do will make that go away.


But what we do with it will be a test of character. I know this from experience. It’s not like the issue of medical marijuana hasn’t caused me problems before.


During my divorce in 2011, my adult son’s use of cannabis was used against me. We lost everything. My son always had permission to treat his symptoms as needed. It was understood, because he has to eat to live. But in court, it didn’t matter. Even though his father was a cocaine addict who eventually left in the back of a cop car, his parents bought him a great attorney. After 24 years, I got my car and nothing else. My son and I had to leave the only home he ever knew, and my ex lives there today. It didn’t matter that the judge was later suspended for abuse of power. Her decision still stands.


I was already dipping my toe in the water of activism at that point, but with that court decision, my destiny was sealed. My son and I suddenly had a whole new life: one without his father, without a home and without enough income. I joined the Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition. I was determined to stand up for his right to keep himself alive. I was sick of depending on a black market and unreliable dealers for my son’s medicine.


It should be as easy to obtain cannabis as it is to fill his prescription for benzos. Being my son’s caretaker forced me to live a double life. In one I am a mom, a writer, a homemaker and upstanding citizen. In the other, I am a criminal, chasing down an illegal drug, waiting on phone calls, and having short meetings with people I barely trust. It doesn’t matter that I am there because my son needs to eat. I might as well be a desperate junkie. The risks I take are the same. So is the penalty. How many other people are there just like me? I wonder.


This is why everything I go through seems to become a cause.


Because of what I saw in jail I am now also an advocate for prison reform. Almost every woman I met there was there because of drugs. Not marijuana, but hard drugs: meth, crack, and ice. Combined with a low-income and ongoing addiction, these women get caught up in a cycle of fines and probation that never ends. It is clear that they need help, not incarceration. Unfortunately, there is money to be made by locking them up. And that is inherently wrong.


They say the War on Drugs is a war on families. And it is. It’s a War on people, on the sick. Deep down, our situation concerns me. Not for myself, but for my son. I don’t want him to be a martyr for a cause, not even this one. As a mom, I feel protective but proud. He is justifiably angry. He has every right to say so, to make noise. Having to choose between one’s health and one’s home is unacceptable.


If they take away his medicine, they could kill him. How many other people are there, just like him? We will never know. How long it will be before the sick in Alabama can have a life free of stigma? Not the stigma of having a disease, but the stigma of using cannabis to live.


I have no idea what life holds for me as I write this. I may never do another day behind bars, or I could go away for 99 years. But no matter how this is resolved, I will never be the woman I was before the cops pulled up in our driveway.


I will be louder. I will be more determined. No matter where I am, I know where I am; I am on the right side of history.


For previous Ladybud Magazine articles about victims of the War on Drugs, click here.

Photo Credit: Laurie Acevedo under (CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons