You, Me & Cannabis- Ash Oakly
The year is 1999. I’m 18 years old. I’m on my way to work in Memphis, TN when I get pulled over. “Damn,” I think. “I’ve got a joint in the ashtray. I’m definitely gonna be late for work.” The cop comes up, and as I roll my window down, I know there’s no hiding the smell. I watch in my rearview mirror as he catches the scent and his expression changes to recognition. I sigh and get out my ID. He saunters up to the window. “Fine day for a drive, miss,” he says with a smirk. “ID?” I hold it out with a smile. He takes it back to his car for a moment and returns. “I’m gonna have to confiscate the contents of your ashtray, but since you don’t have any wants or warrants, I’ll let you go with a warning. Be safe on roads.” I thank him and drive away, pleased that I’ll only be a couple of minutes late.
Now, let’s take a look at this story from another perspective. I’m white. Very white. I’m of Irish and German descent mainly, with red hair, blue eyes and very fair skin. I had a friend back in those days who’s story is the same as mine. Hers ended a bit differently, though. Her joint got her 3 months in jail. The difference between us? She’s black. It was even the same cop.
The year is 2006. I’m receiving treatment for a fractured spine, ovarian cancer and trauma related PTSD. I’m prescribed a whole host of medications for pain and anxiety. I ask my oncologist, “You know, marijuana has worked well for me in the past. A combination of these meds and cannabis would advantageous for me, I feel. What do you think?”
“Oh, no. Cannabis has no medical use. It’s a gateway drug to the harder stuff. I won’t continue to treat you if you use cannabis.”
There’s a note placed in my medical records that exists to this day.
“Patient is suspected of addiction to opiates. Use caution when prescribing opiate medications”
All because I asked about cannabis. Cannabis helped with my pain, gastrointestinal issues, PTSD and anxiety and I had to give it up in favour of opiates and barbiturates or get substandard treatment. This is still happening today.
The year is 2016. I’m permanently wheelchair bound because of the damage to my spine and hips. I haven't left my home hospital bed (except for bathroom use) in about 5 years. I’ve more than doubled my weight, have no friends to speak of, and my children and lifemate have given up trying to get me to engage with them. Finally, I decided that I’d had enough, and put down the opiates forever and switched to cannabis. It took some effort, but I found a therapist and psych team that understood the benefits of cannabis use, especially for trauma related PTSD and anxiety, and the depression and guilt that comes from taking opiates for 10 years straight. Just this year, in 2022 did I find a doctor that supports cannabis use.
Now, having said all this, we know the system doesn’t work for us. There’s injustice everywhere for POC and women in America. We get substandard, often straight up neglectful and abusive treatment from medical professionals and law enforcement and when these issues are brought to light, very little (if anything) changes. The cops still throw their assumed authority all over anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in their gaze and the doctors still ignore us.
Does that make us powerless, though? No. I don’t believe that’s true. The age of the internet has changed everything. Ignorance, while still rampant, is more easily reversible now than in decades past. It’s getting harder and harder to ignore the inequality in the “The Land Of The Free”, and minorities have louder voices and more advocates than in ages past, and some of those people are ending up in positions of government and corporate power.
What part does marijuana play in this, you ask? Simple. Marijuana was the tool that was used in the past to discredit us. Richard Nixon cultivated the idea that only the criminal class enganged in marijuana use and to him, anyone who wasn’t the perfect picture of the White American Dream was the criminal class. Ta-Da! Mission accomplished. Nixon keeps his funding from the pharmaceutical oligarchy. It really is that simple. (Mostly).
Education on cannabis is important. My quality of life has increased exponentially since I put down the opiates and picked up cannabis. I’m rarely in bed. I’m taking care of my house. My relationship with my kids and lifemate has never been better, and my new grandaughter is the personification of everything I hoped for for my oldest son and his wife, and I’m so lucky that they’ve chosen to share her life with me. (Nonna loves you, V!!) I have an active social life. I love my Instagram account and the interactions I have there. I got this opportunity to write this entry. All of this was possible because of cannabis and the community of awesome people that use it for so many different reasons.
In talking about changing perception, the community CANNOT be discounted. Working together, we can remove the stigma surrounding marijuana. Talk to your families and friends about how cannabis helps you or people you know. If you’re in an illegal state, write to your representatives and educate them as well. It all starts with education, and as a community, we have much more power than we ever did alone. A congressman can ignore one or two letters. (S)he can’t ignore thousands. Things don’t become issues unless we, the community, make them issues. We have to be willing to put in the work.
Is this fair? No. It’s not. We shouldn't have to fight for our quality of life. We should be able to live our lives free of persecution because of cannabis use. That’s not the hand we were dealt, though, is it?
I live my life in the hope that this world will be better for my kids and grandchild than the one left for me. I hope that I can count on my community as well. Together, we are powerful. Together, we are strong. Together, we are amazing. Together, we can accomplish wonders.