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I first met Cheryl Miller and her husband, Jim, at the 2001 NORML convention in Washington, D.C. While I had been a cannabis hemp activist for 10 years, meeting Cheryl profoundly changed my perspective. She was a woman being wheeled around in a bed by Jim, and was unable to walk and barely able to talk. Yet here she was, in the midst of hundreds of people, smiling through her pain and sharing her story of strength, perseverance and compassion.
Because what Cheryl wanted was compassion. Compassion for herself and others that need medicinal cannabis. Although Cheryl’s passing in 2003 saddened me greatly, I was heartened that her life gave so much meaning to me and to so many others. When I heard that Jim wanted to place a State of Compassion flag at Cheryl’s grave at the International Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery in Norman, OK, I was struck with a feeling of “it’s a small world, isn’t it?” My father and one of my brothers are also buried at the IOOF Cemetery and my “little” brother, Mark, lives in Norman. I’m in Boston putting together an article with Jim in New Jersey about a memorial in Oklahoma for Ladybud Magazine, which is published out of Colorado by Cheryl’s surrogate daughter, publisher Diane Fornbacher. Mark read a statement written by Jim and also wrote an impassioned summary of his thoughts on Cheryl and medical marijuana, both of which are included below. I hope that cannabis hemp activists and patients will make the pilgrimage to Cheryl’s grave and reflect on her life, her struggles and her victories, many of which are still occurring thanks to her.
With “bast” regards.
Cheryl Miller was born Cheryl Lee Williams in Heavener Oklahoma. She attended high school in El Reno and met Jim, her future husband, in Oklahoma City while raising three children as a single parent on Houston Avenue in Norman. As Oklahoman as Cheryl was, it is not the people of Oklahoma who are generally even aware that one of their own is held by many nationally to have been one of the most effective and profound medical marijuana activists of our time. While it is true that she moved to New Jersey in 1986, her accomplishments reverberated nationwide at the federal level as well as in New Jersey at the state level. Considering her “activism” took place while she was in a wheelchair or hospital bed over the last 20 years of her life, her achievements are all the more remarkable, yet to this day have never once been mentioned in any sector of Oklahoma media.
Today’s purpose is not to publicly applaud Cheryl’s specific efforts or to aggrandize her unique methods of achieving her goals. It is to further what she had hoped would become her true legacy: to have been a teacher. And that can only happen if we learn from her. Today is to continue learning from the examples she set at great risk to her fragile health. While many people rely on simply saying that you can do almost anything with whatever lot you were given in life, Cheryl tried to teach us that with “real world” physical examples so we could see it and feel it, rather than just hear someone say it.
She did what she did so we could learn from it in perpetuity. While many say “You know what you should do…”? Cheryl would say “Here is what I did. So can you”. While others may recognize impediments to their right to Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness only to complain about it, Cheryl didn’t bother complaining. She went straight from recognizing a problem to doing something about it.
She was told by medical marijuana opponents in the mid 1990’s that there were no clinical tests to prove her assertion that her reduction in multiple sclerosis pain and spasticity were because she began complimenting her list of daily medications with marijuana butter. She didn’t complain about the quality of such a statement. She responded by doing an illegal public test of medical marijuana’s ability to ease her MS symptoms while laying in her hospital bed, placed at the foot of the steps leading into the Statehouse in Trenton. Television crews were there to record the success of her “test” as well as the refusal of the State Police to intervene. Cheryl was then able to say to opponents that there WAS at least one test showing marijuana’s benefit on MS symptoms, and if they wanted a better test done she would join them in trying to make that possible.
A year later in 1998, there was a national outcry from medical marijuana advocates about a non-binding resolution in the House of Representatives that was about to pass overwhelmingly. It stated that it was their official opinion that marijuana was a dangerous and addictive drug and should not be legalized by any state. Cheryl didn’t complain. She went to Washington, D.C. and was arrested for eating a small bud of marijuana while in a deserving congressman’s office, in front of the world media as well as the Capitol Police. The USA Today published a picture of the event and the Associated Press made it worldwide news.
A year later congressman Bob Barr successfully prevented the implementation of the District of Columbia’s successful vote to allow medical marijuana in D.C. Cheryl didn’t complain. She went to his Washington office and asked him why he did what he did. When his answer proved unsatisfactory she had her immobile body placed in his office doorway saying to him “If you want to walk all over medical marijuana patients you can start with me.” Four years later, less than a year before she passed away, Cheryl Miller made a television commercial that helped kick Bob Barr out of office and out of the lives of medical marijuana patients.
Cheryl hoped that she could teach people that they could go further than lamenting about what impedes our rights as American citizens, and that we are not bound by “normal” accepted methods of speaking out about our rights. Rights that we as a country continually tell the world we have.
Cheryl Miller loved the premise of there actually being a God given right to Life and Liberty, and the possibility of pursuing one’s individual Happiness whatever it may be as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others. Coming here today solely to remember Cheryl would not have been good enough for her. Coming here to her final resting place and then walking away better equipped and with a greater desire to become a more effective medical marijuana advocate on behalf of those too weak or too afraid to speak for themselves? That would have been her hope because that would define her as having been the teacher that she always hoped that she would be.
My name is Mark Dvorak and I have a rare disease called Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia. HSP involves the progressive degeneration of the upper motor neurons causing many problems including, but not limited to: balance and gait disturbances, leg weakness (causing mobility problems), severe pain, bowel and bladder problems, anxiety and depression. There is currently no cure for this disease. I have tried many therapies, all to no avail. The only thing that makes life bearable for me is opiates for pain and anxiety medication. But enough about me.
For the longest time, I wondered if marijuana could be used medicinally to help the millions upon millions of people in the world suffering from various ailments. After some self-education on the subject, I have concluded that it can! I went to a senate hearing at the Oklahoma State Capitol in 2013. At this meeting there was testimony about how CBD, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana, can be used to treat epilepsy. I heard testimony from a mother of a child with epilepsy and from two scientists that are studying cannabis and CBD. I also heard testimony from a physician that is an epilepsy specialist. They all gave unbelievable reports as to how medical marijuana is great and should be further studied. I left the meeting thinking: “could this all be true?”
I started paying more attention to medical marijuana programs on television. To my amazement, Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN had several reports as to how medical marijuana is very good for epilepsy and other ailments. I saw many other amazing documentary type shows as to how good the marijuana plant is for various medicinal uses.
I went to another senate medical marijuana hearing at the Oklahoma State Capitol in 2014. Again, I heard testimony from a mother of an epileptic child patient, a grandfather of an epileptic child patient, a gentleman producing high CBD hemp in Colorado designated for epileptic patients and a scientist. They all had incredibly high praise for medical marijuana.
After attending these hearings and seeing so many good reports on television about how good medical marijuana is, I decided I was going to do all I can to make the fact known that medical marijuana can be good for everyone. Along my journey of finding out how good medical marijuana is, I also learned about improper incarceration, prohibition, how the drug war is not working, industrial uses of cannabis hemp, and the enormous amount of money the government can make by taxing marijuana. All of this information really got me to thinking. THE US GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO RESCHEDULE MARIJUANA SO MORE THOROUGH RESEARCH CAN BE DONE! After all, the United States put a man on the moon, so why can’t we research marijuana to its fullest extent, for the betterment of mankind?
I am making it a mission of mine to try to tell everyone I know how the marijuana plant needs to be researched more by the United States in order to reveal its potential for the good of all mankind. The terrible stigma about the plant is causing a major roadblock in the U.S. for this to happen. We are very fortunate to have had pioneers like Cheryl Miller, a past multiple sclerosis medical marijuana activist, and Oklahoma State Senator Connie Johnson on the side of medical marijuana. Keep them both in your prayers and thoughts, for one day all those suffering will get some relief by using medical marijuana.
Thanks for your time.