Cannabis Controversy | The Debate Over Medicinal Marijuana

Published: Nov. 4, 2016 at 8:28 AM CDT
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Nichole Nimmo is a farmer, a grower, a producer and a lover of the land. In her greenhouse she tenderly cares for hydroponic lettuce and greens.

A college graduate with a chemistry degree, she's also a baker, who has perfected recipes for gluten and dairy free baked goods.

In December of 2015, Nichole was caught growing a plant that landed her on the wrong side of the law...marijuana.

"Our home was raided. When you've never been involved with police, when someone knocks on your door at 9:00 p.m. you expect them to tell you you have a family member that is dead."

In 2013 at 28 years old Nichole was diagnosed with mixed cellularity Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"Two days after the biopsy I got a phone call at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday. It was cancer."

Fighting rheumatold arthritis since she was 13 years old, Nichole had taken numerous prescription drugs to manage pain, but cancer was a whole new ballgame.

"Because of how aggressive chemotherapy is, it was hell."

To avoid side affects, Nichole chose a different approach to alleviate her pain.

"You take the pill, you somewhat have relief but you don't have full relief. With cannabis, I was able to get full relief. My husband started growing it in order to avoid going to drug dealers' homes and being around much worse than cannabis."

After authorities were tipped off to Nichole's marijuana grow, she and her husband spent 22 hours in jail, nine days of home incarceration and were slapped with a $10,000 fine.

"I was actually functioning at the best I had in my entire adult life while using cannabis. We weren't hurting anybody. We were just the kings of our own castle until someone came in and told us we couldn't be."

It is stories like Nichole's that have helped foster and shape the conversation about decriminalizing medicinal marijuana, now legal in 25 states.

"What this discussion is doing with our young people, it is sending a message to them, marginalizing the significance of this drug."

Ed Shemelya is director of the National Marijuana Initiative and says legalization has influenced people, especially youth, to not understand its full risk and harm.

"We're seeing smokeable product in Colorado exceeding 40% in concentration, and when you start extracting THC and you're putting it in edibles you're seeing concentration levels in the 90+ percent range, and that's what makes this drug so dangerous."

Shemelya says we don't know how increasingly higher levels of THC are affecting brain development.

"We have no idea what today's marijuana is doing to our young people."

That evidence has not been enough to stop states like California, Colorado and Pennsylvania who have either passed bills or let voters decide if marijuana should be legal.

"What other medicine do you know that the patient gets to determine when they take it, how much they take, and to what level they take it? Or that state legislators get to tell you how much you can produce as a patient?"

Nichole argues the laws and penalties in the Bluegrass are too severe.

"I can have cannabis in the state of Kentucky and it can ruin my life or I can drive six hours north to Michigan, have a prescription and it save my life."

Shemelya says it shouldn't be up to voters or legislators to decide if marijuana is medicine.

"We have a process in this country. It's called the FDA, and that's the process where we vet all pharmaceuticals, all drugs, to determine the efficacy and safety of those drugs before we release them to the public."

For Nichole, she's already convinced.

"I hope that myself and others can have the medicine they deserve that they know works for them, without fear of prosecution, just so they have a better quality of life."

Nichole's cancer is now in remission as the national debate over marijuana continues.

Medicinal marijuana is on the ballot in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota on November 8. It's expected to come up yet again in Kentucky when the state legislature returns to Frankfort in 2017.

For states where medicinal marijuana is now legal, under federal law doctors can only write a recommendation for it, which is different than a prescription.

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