By Montel Williams
In 1999, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Sixteen years later, I can honestly say not a single second of my life has gone by where I have been unaware of my disease. Because of my condition, I experience neuropathic pain 24 hours a day, have battled severe depression and experienced intense periods of suicidal ideation. Although multiple sclerosis has changed nearly every aspect of my life, I've never let it control or define who I am. I work every day to beat this disease through a rigorous exercise regimen, strict diet and physical therapy.
In early attempts to manage the painful symptoms of my disease, doctors prescribed me every powerful painkiller you can imagine — Percocet, Oxycontin and Vicodin to name a few. My experience with these pharmaceutical interventions was nasty and ineffective at best, as they provided little to no symptom relief. I was just left with the miserable side effects you only read about on the side of the label.
My current physicians recommended I try medical marijuana as part of my treatment protocol, and its use has provided me with more symptom relief than any drug previously prescribed to me. Only someone suffering from a debilitating disease could truly know how effective medical marijuana can be, and I can attest to it firsthand. I know that there are many more out there who can benefit from its proper use just as I have, and because of that I fully support Florida's Amendment 2. Patients deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and compassion — not left as collateral damage on the political battlefield.
It may come as a surprise to most of you that the federal government actually allows limited medical marijuana use to this very day. The system, known as the Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program, is based out of the University of Mississippi and is FDA-approved. While they won't accept any new patients, there are currently two Americans who suffer from debilitating diseases that still receive prescription medical marijuana every month that's produced and transported by your tax dollars.
It also may come as a surprise that the United States government is the sole owner of the patent on medical marijuana. Don't take my word for it though — you can look it up for yourself on the website for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Patent number 6,630,507 includes "Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants," and was assigned more than a decade ago to The United States of America as represented by the Department of Health and Human Services.
I know that medical marijuana works, and clearly the federal government does too. Unfortunately for patients, politically motivated decisions at the federal level have left the burden of crafting responsible medical marijuana laws with the state governments. So far, 23 states and the District of Columbia have taken the lead to allow patients with seriously debilitating conditions the opportunity to utilize the therapeutic benefits of this treatment.
On Nov. 4, I believe that informed, compassionate Floridians will pass Amendment 2 and reaffirm the basic principle that patients should be able to comply with their doctor's recommendations without fear of violating an antiquated law. For those on the fence, try thinking about it in these terms: Why should a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy in Maine be allowed precious reprieve from the horrific side effects of treatment, while someone suffering similarly in Florida faces criminal charges from using the same doctor-recommended therapeutic remedy?
I'll leave you with this: In 1998, the words multiple sclerosis meant nothing to me. They were only words. I never thought about what it would be like to live in constant pain, or to be so depressed that I struggled just to get out of bed in the morning, or that I might truly consider taking my own life just to escape the harsh reality that accompanies serious debilitation.
My story is not unique, though. There are many Floridians who suffer needlessly as I once did. As you head to the polls on Nov. 4, I'll be thinking about them. I hope you will be too.
Montel Williams is a television personality, radio talk-show host and actor. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 15 years ago.
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