In the 1990’s I worked as a social worker. Within our office there was a lot of healthy camaraderie. It arose out of a need to keep our energy from being depleted through feelings of helplessness. We heard many sad and wretched stories from our clients during the day, but we tried to give them as much help as possible within the confines of the bureaucratic system. This kind of work can be depressing. One is at a loss to “fix” people and that really was not our job. The hearts of my co-workers were huge and filled with empathy. Many of us had, at one time or another, fallen on hard times ourselves. The system is limited in its ability to adequately see that proper food, health care, and homes were provided to those in dire need. Numbers. It’s all about numbers and cold hard facts. Through it all, the social workers talked with each other during breaks or lunch about their own families, various plights we were facing, and this became our internal support group.
One of the social workers in our office was Garrett, known for the best lunches any wife packed for any man, ever. I was living in Pittsburgh, and if you know anything about the Burgh, you will understand how we salivated over Garrett’s lunches of Isaly’s chipped ham with mayo, lettuce, and tomatoes on the one and only, Mancini’s bread! Garrett had a smile that melted into his entire face and every day he offered us part of his lunch. He was a tall, skinny, man and I guess we figured he needed as many calories as possible. Little did we know at that point how important those calories would become.
We were all gathered in the break room one afternoon and feeling weary. Garrett looked solemn. We waited for him to speak. “I have pancreatic cancer,” he said. A shiver went over the room. We all knew the prognosis. In the weeks and months that followed, Garrett underwent chemo. He had a wife and two teenage boys, but came to work almost every day so he could accrue more benefits for them when the end came. We doted on him with love. As thin as he had been, his weight seemed to drop so quickly that soon, he was a walking bone structure with a sunken face. He was also cold. It was winter, hideous winter. I brought in a space heater for his cubicle and a cozy afghan for his shoulders to keep him warm. His appetite was gone. No more Mancini bread sandwiches. He was drifting away from us.
One day he said to me, “Kiddo, can you get me some, you know…(he stumbled) pot? Some weed?” Why he asked me is a mystery, but I believe it was a matter of trust. Marijuana was verboten, prohibited, against the law. But I knew people who knew people. I got some weed and baked the whole lot of it in a batch of brownies. I surreptitiously gave the large pan of goodies to him on a Friday afternoon. Monday morning he came into my cubicle and gave me the biggest bear hug I ever had. He said that he and his wife had eaten all marijuana-laced brownies over the weekend. He had such an appetite, he said, and his wife had cooked for him the entire time. He also said it was the best he had felt physically in ages. Garrett was so filled with gratitude, and I just wanted to magically imbue him with that permanent feeling of euphoria. He had been suffering for what seemed to be so long, too long.
Two months later, Garrett was in the hospital for the last time. His doctors prescribed medical marijuana for him during that stay. His wife later told us that the medical marijuana had eased his final days. We all took Garrett’s death hard. He was a gentle man, a young man, a good man. And except for that one weekend and the pot-laced brownies, he had suffered hard. His wife had suffered along with him. She would later tell us that she received a bill from the hospital for $700.00. She had been charged for the medical marijuana even though the physician had prescribed it and the hospital had filled it.
I tell you this story to put a face on the need for medical marijuana. There is no shame in it. Why isn’t medical marijuana, weed, pot, legalized all over the country? Some states are moving toward legalizing medical marijuana. On Nov. 21, 2013, a survey was taken in my state of Florida, and 82% supported legalizing medical marijuana with a doctor’s prescription. There is a proposed state constitutional amendment to put this on next year’s election ballot. There will always be detractors like those during Prohibition. It is such nonsense. We are a callous, backward lot at times. Think about my friend Garrett the next time someone asks you whether medical marijuana should be legalized. I could not “fix” Garrett, anymore than I could fix my clients. But the use of weed should not be a criminal offense. Not providing it for medical use should be criminal. Use your vote to voice your opinion. At the very least, medical marijuana should be legalized. Garrett would like that, Kiddo.