Eric, who asked that last name be withheld, barely gets to wipe his mouth after finishing his meal when the inside of his body feels as if it is catching on fire. He grips his stomach tightly, moaning in pain, as he waits for the stomach virus to go away.
But a couple of days go by and the pain still lingers. Eric notices that the intense pain returns every time he eats. Like most college students, Eric, a University of Maryland student, enjoys going out to eat and drink with his friends. But after a night of drinking, Eric finds himself still feeling sick two days later. He isn’t able to eat anything. All of that is about to change.
Another night spent drinking with friends goes by. As 6 a.m. strikes, so do the sharp pains. This time, Eric rolls a joint and walks outside. Twenty minutes later, his mood changes for the better and, surprisingly, his appetite is back.
“I was momentarily cured,” Eric said.
Sadly, “momentarily” is the appropriate word. Eric finally finds out that he unfortunately has Crohn’s Disease. Under certain environmental conditions, his immune system will attack itself and a part of his intestine will become inflamed. As a result of the inflammation, he doesn’t absorb nutrients well, which causes him to lose his appetite often.
According to a poll released in October by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, 72 percent of state residents support a change in the law to allow seriously and terminally ill patients to safely obtain and use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it.
Across campus, Tyler Kurt is undergoing a similar traumatic situation. He experiences the same pains as Eric. These pains have been attacking Kurt since he was born. Kurt says his first memories are of trauma. That’s probably because, immediately after exiting his mother’s womb, Kurt was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. This disease causes Kurt to frequently endure chronic pain and muscle spasms.
Like Eric, Kurt said cannabis is the one thing that keeps him grounded and pain-free. Both men have tried other therapeutic remedies: Kurt meditates and does yoga frequently and Eric gets acupuncture. But, ultimately, they both agree that marijuana is the most helpful when relieving pain.
Judy Pentz, executive director of Maryland National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is part of the 72 percent. She has multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. Multiple sclerosis causes her muscles to immensely tense. She believes that medical cannabis can cure diseases.
Pentz said marijuana can alleviate nausea and pain caused by muscle spasms and seizures for patients with epilepsy, cancer, diabetes, and other illnesses. Pentz’s good friend, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer, was on his death bed. When he was told he only had four months to live, he decided to take action. He medically cured himself by ingesting extracts from cannabis oil. The extracts starve the cancer cells. Today, Dennis Hill is cured and goes on tour lecturing in Canada.
Marijuana laws are slowly making way in Maryland. According to Maryland NORML’s website, the medical marijuana affirmative defense law was passed in 2003 and then revised in 2010. This bill requires the court to consider a defendant’s use of medical marijuana to be a mitigating factor in marijuana-related state prosecution. If the patient, post-arrest, successfully makes the case at trial that his or her use of marijuana is one of medical necessity, then there will be no fines and criminal penalties, as long as citizens possessed limited amounts (one ounce or less) of marijuana.
Under the medical marijuana affirmative defense law, Kurt and Eric have letters from their doctors supporting them to be able to carry marijuana for medicinal use, as long as it’s an ounce or less.
However, if a police officer was to catch them with any amount of marijuana, whether it’s an ounce or less, they can still get arrested. The letter only acts as a defense to get the charges dropped if they end up going to court. Eric and Kurt both say they don’t fear getting arrested for marijuana.
“I’m ready and willing to fight the government,” Eric said. “It’s upsetting to lose time and go through a frustrating process, but I’m prepared because I know in the long run I would win.”
Eric and Kurt both said that buying marijuana can be ridiculously expensive. When Eric goes back home to New York he pays $300 for an ounce. When he’s in Maryland, he pays $100 for a quarter of an ounce. In addition, Eric buys cannabidiol, also known as CBD, which is a hemp oil extract. Depending on the amount he gets, it can cost him anywhere between $60 to $160. Though price is a huge barrier, Eric and Kurt agree that they’re most frustrated about not having access to the highest quality of cannabis.
Everyone who sells marijuana can’t be trusted. Buyers can never be certain that someone hasn’t laced the batch they’re selling. Kurt said buying marijuana off the street can be harmful for some people, especially someone who lives in a low class neighborhood.
“The drug war is a race and class war,” Kurt said. “It’s unfair.”
People like Charvon, an African American Baltimore resident, agrees with Kurt’s depiction of the drug war. Charvon, who asked to have his last name withheld, is angry with police for targeting himself and other black men in his community.
Charvon was arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia in 2010. It’s his first and only charge on his criminal record. However, an incident that happened four years ago is still affecting him today.
Possession of marijuana shouldn’t be a criminal matter, said Meredith Curtis, Communications Director for ACLU. She said ACLU-MD is very concerned that police target minorities, specifically black Marylanders, for marijuana possession. Curtis said she realizes changing the marijuana laws is only one piece of a larger effort to combat racial profiling. Though racial disparity won’t be solved entirely, she says it’s one thing police can use now as a reason to stop and search, jail and arrest people disproportionately.
According to an ACLU of Maryland report, the number of black to white marijuana users in Maryland are about even. However, between 2001 and 2010, the number of blacks arrested for marijuana possession increased by 5,614, but the number of whites arrested only increased by 371.
“They don’t stop and search people everywhere,” Curtis said. “They do it in certain areas and it’s done in a very discriminatory way.”
Kevin Cransord, Deputy Director of Maryland NORML, is a young, African American, who graduated fromMorgan State University, that has witnessed discrimination for marijuana possession firsthand. Cransord is from Manchester, Conn., a predominantly white area. He said he grew up with white kids who always smoked weed. In fact, that’s where he got it from. The first time he smoked was with his white friends.
“Their parents smoked and they didn’t have a fear of being arrested,” Cransord said. “Then I come to Morgan in the inner city area and it’s totally different in the black community.”
Cransord is frustrated with how common it is to get arrested for marijuana in the Morgan community. He said the cops are constantly harassing people and asking students what’s in their pockets. Cransord questions how police utilize their resources. He believes they can be used more effectively elsewhere if marijuana becomes legalized.
“It would save a lot of money,” Cransord said. “They’re building jails in the city of Baltimore instead of schools. They’re closing schools.”
ACLU of Maryland found that in 2010, Maryland spent approximately $106 million enforcing marijuana laws.
Leigh Maddox, board member for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, couldn’t agree more with Cransord. She would like money and resources spent on the criminal justice system to be allocated to the health system. She would like to see more rehab facilities, clinics, inpatient and outpatient care.
Maddox hopes to raise awareness by promoting education prevention to help change the stigma surrounding drug use. UMD’s Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s is an example of a group who makes it a mission to fulfill Maddox’s vision. UMD’s SSDP chapter’s motto is “Education, not incarceration.”
Like many others, Mikayla Hellwich, UMD’s SSDP’s outreach coordinator, main concerns with prohibition of drugs include racism, classism and appropriate allocation of resources.
She said that compared to whites, minorities, especially blacks and Hispanics, are more likely to go to prison in general, but especially for drug use. She suspects that in some areas, police officers are encouraged by their commanding officer to target these racial groups.
“It’s crazy because, statistically speaking, blacks tend to use drugs in lower rates than whites do,” Hellwich said. “Majority of people, more than half of people in prison, are there for non-violent drug charges.”
Charvon’s arrest was a non-violent drug charge, but he said the consequences he still endures makes him feel as if he committed a violent act. Charvon says he struggles with getting his life on the right track.
He fears he will never be accepted to a university. He fears he will never be considered for a job position in the corporate world. His ultimate fear is remaining stuck. He doesn’t want to continue to make minimum wage at High’s while living in his mother’s house for the rest of his life.
“I lost my freedom that day,” Charvon said. “Sometime I feel like they should have just sentenced me to life.”
Charvon said he knows he broke the law and takes responsibility for his actions. But, he wishes his punishment would’ve been less severe. He thinks a fine should have sufficed. Charvon says, now more than ever, he has every reason to want to get high. He says he’ll never amount to anything because of his criminal record.
“When you’re at your low, how can you not want to get high,” Charvon said.
Kurt sympathizes for people like Charvon. He says locking people up for what they put in their bodies is ludicrous. But, Kurt is more bothered by the government possibly putting an age limit on marijuana if it becomes legalized. He says it’s not fair for pediatric cancer patients who are in extreme pain.
“I really think it’s criminal to deny them that medicine (cannabis oil) and put an age limit on it,” Tyler said.
Kurt and Eric ultimately would like to see patient cultivation, where people can grow their own medicine and dispensaries to ensure the quality and safety of the product. Eric said he wants people to realize what they’re legalizing.
“We’re not legalizing a drug,” Eric said. “We’re legalizing medicine and we need to recognize that herbs are medicine.”