Last month, supporters of medical marijuana rejoiced as Illinois became the 20th state to pass some measure of protection for patients who use cannabis. Patients throughout the state celebrated, except perhaps Michelle DiGiacomo, an activist suffering with rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and spinal stenosis. Michelle’s medical conditions easily qualify for an Illinois medical marijuana card but she is excluded from qualification because she used medical marijuana in Illinois before it was legal.
Michelle had been one of the leading activists on this issue, testifying before the Illinois legislature on the need to pass the medical marijuana bill. She brought the letters from her rheumatologist and her back surgeon explaining the sincerity of her medical use. Her testimony and others helped Rep. Lou Lang, the bill’s long-time sponsor, secure the votes he needed to pass the law.
But Michelle hadn’t waited on the law to pass to choose cannabis to relieve her suffering. She had been making cannabis tinctures and butters for some time. Unfortunately for Michelle, one day last September her 1.5 pound shipment of cannabis from a California grower got sniffed out by a drug dog and Chicago police were waiting as she picked it up at her UPS box. When she got back to her apartment, the cops followed, raided and tossed her apartment, and hauled her out in handcuffs as her 14-year-old daughter cried in fear. After friends raised $1,000 to bail her out, Michelle found her landlord had given her a 30-day eviction notice and the police had seized her car.
Now to add insult to injury, the law that Michelle fought so hard for leaves her a criminal if she uses cannabis medically. Illinois’ medical marijuana law excludes anyone from getting a card if he or she has “a violation of a state or federal controlled substance law that was classified as a felony in the jurisdiction where the person was convicted,” and Michelle’s pound-and-a-half was certainly a felony. The law does provide that “the registering department may waive this restriction if the person demonstrates to the registering department's satisfaction that his or her conviction was for the possession, cultivation, transfer, or delivery of a reasonable amount of cannabis intended for medical use;” however, as Illinois’ law only recognizes two-and-a-half ounces as “reasonable,” she probably can’t meet that standard, either.
Illinois is not the only medical marijuana state with such restrictions. In states that allow for home grows, many deny that right to anyone previously convicted of growing marijuana. Others maintain exclusions for any patients and caregivers convicted of felony possession or sales. So throughout America, some of the best cannabis growers remain criminals instead of legally supplying patients and some of their most deserving patients remain criminals now because they were criminals before.
Here at HIGH TIMES, we wonder, isn’t keeping sick and disabled people from being criminals the whole point of medical marijuana laws?