A Judge’s Plea for Pot

May 19, 2012

Three and a half years ago, on my 62nd birth­day, doc­tors dis­cov­ered a mass on my pan­creas. It turned out to be Stage 3 pan­cre­atic can­cer. I was told I would be dead in four to six months. Today I am in that rare coterie of peo­ple who have sur­vived this long with the dis­ease. But I did not fore­see that after hav­ing ded­i­cated myself for 40 years to a life of the law, includ­ing more than two decades as a New York State judge, my quest for ame­lio­ra­tive and pal­lia­tive care would lead me to mar­i­juana. My sur­vival has demanded an enor­mous price, includ­ing months of chemother­apy, radi­a­tion hell and bru­tal surgery. For about a year, my can­cer dis­ap­peared, only to return. About a month ago, I started a new and even more debil­i­tat­ing course of treat­ment. Every other week, after receiv­ing an IV booster of chemother­apy drugs that takes three hours, I wear a pump that slowly injects more of the drugs over the next 48 hours. Nau­sea and pain are con­stant com­pan­ions. One strug­gles to eat enough to stave off the dra­matic weight loss that is part of this dis­ease. Eat­ing, one of the great plea­sures of life, has now become a daily bat­tle, with each fork­ful a small vic­tory. Every drug pre­scribed to treat one prob­lem leads to one or two more drugs to off­set its side effects. Pain med­ica­tion leads to loss of appetite and con­sti­pa­tion. Anti-nausea med­ica­tion raises glu­cose lev­els, a seri­ous prob­lem for me with my pan­creas so com­pro­mised. Sleep, which might bring respite from the mis­eries of the day, becomes increas­ingly elu­sive. Inhaled mar­i­juana is the only med­i­cine that gives me some relief from nau­sea, stim­u­lates my appetite, and makes it eas­ier to fall asleep. The oral syn­thetic sub­sti­tute, Mari­nol, pre­scribed by my doc­tors, was use­less. Rather than watch the agony of my suf­fer­ing, friends have cho­sen, at some per­sonal risk, to pro­vide the sub­stance. I find a few puffs of mar­i­juana before din­ner gives me ammu­ni­tion in the bat­tle to eat. A few more puffs at bed­time per­mits des­per­ately needed sleep. This is not a law-and-order issue; it is a med­ical and a human rights issue. Being treated at Memo­r­ial Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter, I am receiv­ing the absolute gold stan­dard of med­ical care. But doc­tors can­not be expected to do what the law pro­hibits, even when they know it is in the best inter­ests of their patients. When pal­lia­tive care is under­stood as a fun­da­men­tal human and med­ical right, mar­i­juana for med­ical use should be beyond con­tro­versy. Six­teen states already per­mit the legit­i­mate clin­i­cal use of mar­i­juana, includ­ing our neigh­bor New Jer­sey, and Con­necti­cut is on the cusp of becom­ing No. 17. The New York State Leg­is­la­ture is now debat­ing a bill to rec­og­nize mar­i­juana as an effec­tive and legit­i­mate med­i­c­i­nal sub­stance and estab­lish a law­ful frame­work for its use. The Assem­bly has passed such bills before, but they went nowhere in the State Sen­ate. This year I hope that the out­come will be dif­fer­ent. Can­cer is a non­par­ti­san dis­ease, so ubiq­ui­tous that it’s impos­si­ble to imag­ine that there are leg­is­la­tors whose fam­i­lies have not also been touched by this scourge. It is to help all who have been affected by can­cer, and those who will come after, that I now speak. Given my posi­tion as a sit­ting judge still hear­ing cases, well-meaning friends ques­tion the wis­dom of my com­ing out on this issue. But I rec­og­nize that fel­low can­cer suf­fer­ers may be unable, for a host of rea­sons, to give voice to our plight. It is another heart­break­ing apo­ria in the world of can­cer that the one drug that gives relief with­out dele­te­ri­ous side effects remains clas­si­fied as a nar­cotic with no med­i­c­i­nal value. Because crim­i­nal­iz­ing an effec­tive med­ical tech­nique affects the fair admin­is­tra­tion of jus­tice, I feel obliged to speak out as both a judge and a can­cer patient suf­fer­ing with a fatal dis­ease. I implore the gov­er­nor and the Leg­is­la­ture of New York, always con­sid­ered a leader among states, to join the for­ward and humane think­ing of 16 other states and pass the med­ical mar­i­juana bill this year. Med­ical sci­ence has not yet found a cure, but it is bar­baric to deny us access to one sub­stance that has proved to ame­lio­rate our suf­fer­ing. Gustin L. Reich­bach is a jus­tice of the State Supreme Court in Brook­lyn. A ver­sion of this op-ed appeared in print on May 17, 2012, on page A27 of the New York edi­tion with the head­line: A Judge’s Plea for Pot. Source: New York Times (NY) Author: Gustin L. Reich­bach Pub­lished: May 17, 2012 Copy­right: 2012 The New York Times Com­pany Con­tact: letters@​nytimes.​com Web­site: http://​www​.nytimes​.com/

93589819ccgavel.jpg 150x95 A Judge’s Plea for Pot

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A Judge’s Plea for Pot

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