I was a prosecutor with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office from 1970-1974.
I served seven years as a Maricopa County Superior Court judge after leaving the County Attorney’s Office.
In 1981, I was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve as U.S. attorney in Arizona. The top priority of my office from 1981-1985 was fighting the drug war. While serving as U.S. attorney, I was a member of the Advisory Committee to U.S. Attorney General William French Smith and was involved in setting national policies and priorities.
It would be natural, based on my background, to assume that I would oppose Arizona’s voter-approved medical marijuana law, which allows people with certain medical conditions to have access to medical marijuana through state-licensed regulated dispensaries. But sometimes it takes extraordinary circumstances to get people to see ordinary truths. And that is the case with me.
So here is my story.
In 1997, my 14-year-old son was hit by a car and thrown 125 feet across a busy intersection in Gilbert. He sustained severe and permanent brain damage. After the near-fatal accident, the brain injury evolved into frequent and massive epileptic seizures. These seizures have been regular occurrences for the past 16 years.
One of his many seizures has left him with uncontrollable shaking in his left arm. Some of the world’s finest neurologists and neurosurgeons have prescribed various combinations of approximately 30 different mediations. His condition has been evaluated and treated by some of the top experts in the country, from UCLA Medical Center to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale to Barrow’s Neurological Institute in Phoenix.
In 2003, the seizure condition became so severe that my wife and I and our son agreed to have a portion of his brain removed in hopes this might stop his agony. We were told it had a two-thirds chance of working. Unfortunately, we were in the one-third.
In the early years following the accident, my son was in a state of constant nausea and would go days at a time without eating. Nothing worked, not even the prescription drug Marinol.
We learned early on that despite the significant doses of various medications, nothing stopped the seizures and nothing stopped the nausea, which arose from both the seizures and the medications. His weight dropped from 180 pounds to 119 pounds because of the severe nausea and lack of eating.
Nothing worked until a friend with severe pain issues gave him some marijuana, which proved to be the only substance that would curtail the nausea. This was prior to Arizona’s medical marijuana law.
So there I was – the man appointed by President Reagan to head the drug war in Arizona – with pot being used to help my son find some peace and to have some semblance toward a quality of life.
My wife had to be resourceful to gain access to marijuana. But if you are a parent, if you are a mother, is there anything you won’t do to aid your ailing child? The choice for her was brutally harsh – find ways to give your son life-saving marijuana so he could eat and diminish the nausea, knowing that her loving help for our son could potentially result in criminal prosecution.
When Arizona voters approved medical marijuana in 2010, our family rejoiced. Now, our son could purchase higher quality and effective marijuana for what is truly a legitimate reason. My wife could drive him to state approved dispensaries and purchase medically approved marijuana cultivated for that precise medical need – nausea.
Now my wife and son are faced with the possibility of returning to the underground, to those days of uncertainty, his medical purgatory, a hellish quality of life. There is a bill in the Legislature that aims to revote and repeal the medical marijuana law. They say the jury is still out on marijuana’s medical benefits, that there are too many problems with the program.
To those proponents of repeal I say – come and see and speak with our family and my son. Tell him there are no benefits. Tell his mom and dad. In 16 years, with the greatest medical and pharmaceutical minds in the country, no one has found a plant that diminishes the nausea like marijuana.
There are plenty of folks in Arizona like me – who don’t fit the profile of a medical marijuana advocate. We are here and we will use our voices to fight for people like my son. Because to take away my son’s marijuana would be like taking insulin away from a Type 1 diabetic, or taking pain medications away from a cancer patient because there are some out there who abuse pain medications.
Reform the system where it should be, but do not condemn my family and my son to a life of desperation rather than decency. Don’t criminalize behavior of my wife, other mothers and fathers, or patients, who seek only to use the one plant that gives them some quality of life. To take the one healing plant from the medically needy and criminalize their desperate need for relief provided my professionally cultivated marijuana would be the real crime.
— A. Melvin McDonald served as an U.S. attorney, Maricopa County Superior Court judge and in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.