Marijuana Protesters Make Their Case

“I’ve been known to ride my bike nine miles if the marijuana is a decent grade,” George McMahon said in an easy Texas drawl.

McMahon, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder called Nail Patella Syndrome, is afflicted with uncontrollable pain, spasms and nausea. Except when he’s high. One of just seven United States citizens provided with weed by the little known “Uncle Sam’s Marijuana Farm,” McMahon is a principal advocate for the legalization of medical marijuana.

McMahon, with friend and activist Christopher Largen, wrote the new release “Prescription Pot,” which chronicles McMahon’s activism from the steps of state capitols to the halls of Congress. He has presented his case before the U.S. Supreme Court; he is a frequent guest on National Public Radio and has been featured in articles in the Village Voice and High Times.

“To me, the crux of the issue is this,” Largen said, “If the Drug Enforcement Administration is correct in maintaining that marijuana is a dangerous and addictive substance with no medical value, then why has the government been giving it to sick and dying people for 25 years?”

For years, prescription pills curbed McMahon’s pain but left him brain-addled. When a cancer patient offered him a marijuana cigarette, McMahon tried the drug and felt immediate relief without the usual accompanying daze. McMahon and his wife found a doctor who helped him enroll in the Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program, started by Robert Randall in 1976 and shut down by the Bush administration in 1992.

Most Americans are unaware of this program, through which the United States government has provided medical cannabis to patients suffering from such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, AIDS, cancer and glaucoma. Some 15 to 35 patients joined the program before it shut its doors, and the seven surviving patients, including McMahon, still receive monthly marijuana allocations.

Since enrolling in the program, McMahon has remained on the same dosage as initially prescribed — 10 joints a day, which translates to 300 joints a month.

“I’d like to be able to eat it because it works better,” he said. “It takes more, but it works better. But the government says I have to smoke it all.”

While McMahon receives his marijuana from the government, it remains an illegal substance in most states, including Pennsylvania. All forms, compounds, derivatives, mixtures and preparations extracted from any part of a marijuana plant or its seeds are banned.

“I’m not in any medical position to argue the relevance of marijuana and where I should recommend it to someone who is terminally ill, but I would discourage the use of marijuana because of legal implications and medical reasons,” said Diana Ramos, community health educator for the Office of Health Promotion and Education. “Studies have found that heavy users have had chronic bronchitis and some respiratory problem, and in the short term there is memory loss and lack of motivation.”

McMahon supports legalization of all forms of marijuana, but said for the present, he is more concerned with the dying and suffering who could benefit from medical marijuana than about those who want to “smoke up for a good time.”

The legalization of all forms of marijuana remains a controversial national issue, which McMahon says contributes to a lack of compassion on behalf of American bureaucrats.

“These people can die because it’s against the law,” he said. “Why is it against the law? Because some kid might pick it up and smoke it. But he could buy as much beer and whiskey as he wants. He can go to the doctor and get prescriptions for drugs that can and do kill with the first dose. This is a medicine I need. It has nothing to do with laws, three-fourths of it has to do with my health.”