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Dear Pennsylvania Governor: Here's How I'd Amend Your New Medical Marijuana Act

Dear Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf,

Before I even pen a sentence to this letter, I need to ask you to forgive me for the passion that has fueled this letter; as I write this, know that my frustrations and my disappointments have boiled long over — know that as I pen this letter I have thought about the consequences of all that I am about to tell you. And I want you to know that I have decided that the truth is more important than any consequences I may face – that is something that we all teach our children, right?

I want to talk to you about the new medical marijuana policy in Pennsylvania. First, allow me to thank you for signing Act 16. You have single-handedly begun a process that will change lives. You may be wondering why I write this letter to you at all.

Well, Mr. Wolf, we have a lot to talk about. My name is Brittney. I’m 21, a student, a writer; and on April 6, 1995, I was born with cerebral palsy weighing 1 pound, 13 ounces. Doctors told my parents I would be unable to walk, talk, eat, or even acknowledge my parents’ presence. But doctors do not know everything. I am a walking, talking, fully aware functioning adult now. I walk with a “significant limp” with what they call a “scissored gait.” My left arm and hand was of no use to me until recently, it was just something attached to my body — but we’ll get to that.

I grew up in a happy, healthy home. I’m a well-adjusted adult. My father was a Vietnam vet, my mother did cardiology — both were successful people in their own right, and both of them used marijuana while I was growing up. We always had food to eat, our home was always clean, Child Services never knocked on our door, and as I mentioned, I am a perfectly fine adult. I was always a mobile child — walking with an assistive device (I had a walker) or I walked independently. This walking was usually discouraged by my doctors saying that I “could not walk distances” but my parents always took a different approach, citing that you don’t know what I was capable of until I tried, no one does. When I was 10 years old, I was able to walk without a walker for the first time at school. But when I turned 16, I started having debilitating hip pain. The pain was so bad I was in and out of hospital ERs every day and unable to go to school because it was too painful to walk or even sit. 

At just shy of 18, nearly two years after the pain started, a doctor told me there was nothing more we could do. She told me I would have chronic pain for the rest of my life and basically to go home and have some chocolate cake. I wish I could explain to you what constant pain does  within a young person’s body and to their spirit. I take no medicine for this pain because everything we tried did not work besides Botox injections which I can only get once every two to three years. While that helps the pain significantly, it never goes away anymore. Granted, I am lucky. I drive. I have a loving boyfriend and friends and generally speaking, life is good. But I am still in pain and I worry about what it will be like when I’m older. 

A few months ago, my mother walked into every medical marijuana dispensary she could find, seeking answers for her daughter. Then, I tried a marijuana candy.

I have spastic diplegia cerebral palsy — spastic for me means that my muscles in my pelvic and lower body region are extremely tight. Diplegia means that more than one limb is affected; they usually speak of this in terms of legs but my left arm is also affected as I mentioned. This was the first time in six years I did not have any pain. The hip pain had spread to my back and ankles too, and now I had no pain at all. Within a few hours, I could begin feeling my left arm – and now I can actually grasp and hold things with it! I was forced to do years of physical and occupational therapy. Physical therapy will always be a blessing, but it did not manage pain. Occupational therapy gave me nothing but frustration and negative feelings about myself and what I could not do. Thanks to the medical marijuana, I can. I have even started walking again and trying to walk distances again. My doctor had stripped me of my independence and how I feel about myself, and marijuana is giving it back.

My purpose for this letter is education. I want to ask you to expand your medical marijuana policy. I want you to open it up to choice. According to the law, you have to have a serious condition and the website contains a list of serious conditions — that’s great. But, marijuana is helping people with conditions that are not on that list and people are afraid to speak up about using it because of the stigma and judgment that surround it. This is something we do privately within our own homes. So, I’m asking you to expand your policy so that anyone who struggles with, say, chronic pain (which is included in the list of conditions, though the law still doesn’t clarify exactly what that means), or a mental illness like anxiety can be considered as a patient for this treatment.

I’m asking you to decriminalize it completely and give people the freedom of speech their forefathers fought for. I want anyone who may think or know that this is an option for them to have the right to say so. 

I am also asking that you lift limitations on how the marijuana is consumed — each way, eating, smoking, etc. has a different effect on the body at a different rate. I think people should be able to choose what they wish to do; some people may choose multiple options and that should be their right.

Personally, I think as long as I show up and do what is expected of me every day, and not cause harm to anybody, it should be no one’s business what I do behind closed doors, and how I medicate myself should be my choice. It should be everyone’s choice. I have tried all the pain medications and all the therapy you could offer. Medical marijuana is giving me myself and my life back. And I believe once I am able to freely use as often as I need, compared to when I have to hide in secrecy, I will discover even more ways that it has helped me.

I no longer wish to fear legal prosecution for finally feeling better. I am not a criminal, I am in pain and marijuana makes me better. Thank you for listening, Mr. Wolf. I hope we as people in the state of Pennsylvania and as citizens of the United States can continue to have an open conversation about this.

This post was originally published on My Life as Brittney.

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