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A Judges Plea For Pot
Attorney General Charges Port Huron Dispensary
December 5, 2012
Guns and Medical Marijuana Laws, How Can This Make Any Sense?
December 15, 2012

Three and a half years ago, on my 62nd birthday, doctors discovered a mass on my pancreas. It turned out to be Stage 3 pancreatic cancer. I was told I would be dead in four to six months. Today I am in that rare coterie of people who have survived this long with the disease. But I did not foresee that after having dedicated myself for 40 years to a life of the law, including more than two decades as a New York State judge, my quest for ameliorative and palliative care would lead me to marijuana.

My survival has demanded an enormous price, including months of chemotherapy, radiation hell and brutal surgery. For about a year, my cancer disappeared, only to return. About a month ago, I started a new and even more debilitating course of treatment. Every other week, after receiving an IV booster of chemotherapy drugs that takes three hours, I wear a pump that slowly injects more of the drugs over the next 48 hours.

Nausea and pain are constant companions. One struggles to eat enough to stave off the dramatic weight loss that is part of this disease. Eating, one of the great pleasures of life, has now become a daily battle, with each forkful a small victory. Every drug prescribed to treat one problem leads to one or two more drugs to offset its side effects. Pain medication leads to loss of appetite and constipation. Anti-nausea medication raises glucose levels, a serious problem for me with my pancreas so compromised. Sleep, which might bring respite from the miseries of the day, becomes increasingly elusive.

Inhaled marijuana is the only medicine that gives me some relief from nausea, stimulates my appetite, and makes it easier to fall asleep. The oral synthetic substitute, Marinol, prescribed by my doctors, was useless. Rather than watch the agony of my suffering, friends have chosen, at some personal risk, to provide the substance. I find a few puffs of marijuana before dinner gives me ammunition in the battle to eat. A few more puffs at bedtime permits desperately needed sleep.

This is not a law-and-order issue; it is a medical and a human rights issue. Being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, I am receiving the absolute gold standard of medical care. But doctors cannot be expected to do what the law prohibits, even when they know it is in the best interests of their patients. When palliative care is understood as a fundamental human and medical right, marijuana for medical use should be beyond controversy.

Sixteen states already permit the legitimate clinical use of marijuana, including our neighbor New Jersey, and Connecticut is on the cusp of becoming No. 17. The New York State Legislature is now debating a bill to recognize marijuana as an effective and legitimate medicinal substance and establish a lawful framework for its use. The Assembly has passed such bills before, but they went nowhere in the State Senate. This year I hope that the outcome will be different. Cancer is a nonpartisan disease, so ubiquitous that it’s impossible to imagine that there are legislators whose families have not also been touched by this scourge. It is to help all who have been affected by cancer, and those who will come after, that I now speak.

Given my position as a sitting judge still hearing cases, well-meaning friends question the wisdom of my coming out on this issue. But I recognize that fellow cancer sufferers may be unable, for a host of reasons, to give voice to our plight. It is another heartbreaking aporia in the world of cancer that the one drug that gives relief without deleterious side effects remains classified as a narcotic with no medicinal value.

Because criminalizing an effective medical technique affects the fair administration of justice, I feel obliged to speak out as both a judge and a cancer patient suffering with a fatal disease. I implore the governor and the Legislature of New York, always considered a leader among states, to join the forward and humane thinking of 16 other states and pass the medical marijuana bill this year. Medical science has not yet found a cure, but it is barbaric to deny us access to one substance that has proved to ameliorate our suffering.

Gustin L. Reichbach is a justice of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on May 17, 2012, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: A Judge’s Plea for Pot.

Marijuana Patients
Marijuana Patients
Challenging the existing political and moral dogma that marijuana has no medical benefits.

30 Comments

  1. Avatar Dale Champion says:

    it is a fabulous plant

  2. Avatar T Geoff says:

    great story and apparently it takes near death experiences for these judges to start doing the right thing. Most judges lack real courage and are simply government employees hoping they will never again have to build and maintain their own law practice.

    • Avatar Douglas Willinger says:

      “Most judges lack real courage…”

      Who fail to obey ther oath to uphold the US Constitution. Such as Amendment #8 against excessive punishments.

  3. Avatar Nrsrchd says:

    She needs to try some Black Cumin Oil. Have a friend with the same thing. They have been sick for about a year and used other herbs but just started on the black cumin and is already looking better after just 5 days of taking it. We just need the pharma cartel to step aside and let us use what was put here for us to use in the first place.

  4. Avatar jigster says:

    Marijuana should be legal beyond medical reasons. Corrupt minded politicians should not dictate our lives, especially against our interest. There are many benefits derived from marijuana outside medicine, so legalizing it for medical reasons is a step forward but not enough. The judge happens to be eloquent but she may have directly or indirectly jail people who were less eloquent. “Inhaled marijuana is the only medicine that gives me some relief from nausea, stimulates my appetite, and makes it easier to fall asleep. The oral synthetic substitute, Marinol, prescribed by my doctors, was useless. Rather than watch the agony of my suffering, friends have chosen, at some personal risk, to provide the substance. I find a few puffs of marijuana before dinner gives me ammunition in the battle to eat. A few more puffs at bedtime permits desperately needed sleep.”

  5. Avatar hahahahahahah says:

    Coleen obrien has zero compassion. She is the worst thing sitting on a bench

  6. Avatar Michael Kaer says:

    Dr. Grinspoon has said it is remarkablely non-toxic. Others have mentioned the Rick Simpson Oil treatments. I a little pot does so much for you, Imagine if you where able to flood your body with Cannabinoids through eating the oil.

  7. Avatar Karmas a HOOKER says:

    I hope she dies a slow agonizing death. She’s probably sentenced more people to jail time for possessing cannabis while she was an active judge than she can even count to. But she was “just following orders” right? That’s what the Nazi’s said.

    Fuck the cops, judge AND the D.A.!!

  8. Avatar belladonna1963 says:

    Im not sure it is wise to judge ignorance so harshly. There is a reason for everything. Perhaps discovering the truth for herself by her cancer diagnosis is a possibility. All of we baby boomers and beyond were told a big fat lie by our govt. We watched andy griffith and the brady bunch. And my children today wonder why i wasnt smarter back then. Some of us truly didnt know marijuana wasnt the devils weed. We didnt. I sure as hell didnt. And i know im not the only one. Back then growing up in the 70’s & coming of age in the 80’s, i was a very ignorant outspoken opponent of marijuana. And i didnt know my ass from my elbow. Now and for the past five years i have been a complete irritating (& i dont care, cuz its MY HEALTH), very outspoken, vocal advocate for decriminalization and across the board legalization for an herb well known by our elder elders for its ANALGEZIC effect. So while rehabs keep prescribing xanax for panic attacks & detoxing (i can almost feel a George Carlin joke, there)- I REFUSE TO BUY THEIR BULLSHIT ANY LONGER. The Judge is correct in that medicating by marijuana is and should forever more be a Human Right. I have never appreciated being lied to. And for the 20 yrs of mental anxiety hell i experienced because of that lie and for my beautiful 19 yr old Tim, who lost his life to the insanity n greed of that lie- ive earned the right to stand up for this cause. And children, this old lady aint gonna go down without a fight. Consider that just a yr ago i was saying “cannabis” because mj was feared offensive. Well, its pot, people. And thats NOT a dirty word. And what I find more offensive than anything is sheer ignorance n closed minds. Pass the truth while ur passing that j.

  9. Avatar Rory M. says:

    I’m sorry it took cancer to enlighten you, your honor. I hope it saves your life. In turn, you can help save the lives of Aaron Sandusky, Joe Grumbine and all of the other prisoners of this obscene and bogus “war”. Aaron is facing a mandatory minimum of 10 Years to LIFE for owning GThree Holistics in Upland, CA and helping sick patients, like you. With California’s blessing. He will be sentenced on Jan. 7th. Joe Grumbine is facing a SECOND trial for owning a Collective in Long Beach after the Judge in the first trial had to recuse himself for his obvious bias. Both men refused a plea bargain. Because they’ve done NOTHING WRONG! Please join The Human Solution. http://www.the-human-solution.org

  10. Avatar Debbie Perysian says:

    I was diagnoised with Glaucoma at the age of 27 after a near-death experience..I was prescribed eye drops that cost $300.00 monthly and burned my eyes..I quit taking them and switched to Marijuana..I have a card for use but I’m still forced to purchase my choice of Glaucoma medicine from on the streets even though Marijuana is now legal in MI..At my last eye examine..I was told there hasn’t been any more damage done to my eyes from the Glaucome that threatens to steal my eyesight. I credit Marijuana for saving my sight..which still remains the same as 23 yrs ago.

  11. Avatar Rusty Bucket says:

    This ignoirant government has set cancer research back 75 years! From what I’ve been reading over and over I have come to believe that the cure for cancer is in cannabis. Government has usecatholic dark ages tactics to supress and lie about the most usefull plant god has given the human race. Its looking to me like thru research cannabis will one day be like a vitamin to the human body. American government has lied for 75 about cannabis. Am I the only one who feels this way… When a Law is based on a lie and everything the government says about this plant is a lie then doesn’t this also make them thieves? I think so. I feel that every moment a person is heald under this lie of a law is a moment stolen. Every dollar that a person is fined under a lie of a law is a dollar stolen. Any property confiscated under a lie of a law is property stolen. The way I see it is… When I call this government a liar and a thief, I’ve hit the nail right on the head!

  12. Avatar Nyomi says:

    I do NOT have Cancer, but I DO suffer from SEVERE Chronic Pain and Chronic Intractable Vomiting. I FULLY support the Legalization of Marijuana for any and ALL reasons, but ESPECIALLY for Medical use. My State (NH) is in the works of Legalization, but is not there yet. I hope the law to Legalize Marijuana, not only in MY State, but in ALL States, happens soon. 5 out of my 6 Different Doctors that I see not only recommend, but URGE me to use Marijuana to help me with my Pain, Nausea and Vomiting! They gave me permission to use a NATURAL MEDICATION that is an Illegal Substance in our State. I think that says something for at least our Doctors!!!

  13. Avatar Juergen says:

    I’m a patient, not a criminal.

    In short, the allegations of “harm” by which Cannabis has been prohibited are, by disinterested scientific scrutiny, not substantiated: the “harm” has been competently , comprehensively and consistently dismissed. The allegations are naught by figments. The unfounded “law” has always been false; the Prohibition is an ongoing fraud; all Cannabis related prosecutions of citizens are malicious.

    Currently, to use the term “drug” to describe cannabis is not simply untruthful, but worse, it is the premeditated adoption of an unconscionable Prohibitionist tactic of semantic abuse. This devious ploy deliberately associates mild, benign cannabis with potentially dangerous, addictive substances, drugs – of which alcohol is one such – to make cannabis appear to be something harmful, which the official empirical researches confirm is not.

    Cannabis – The Benign Medical Herb

    The official Empirical Studies into actual use of cannabis conclude:

    1) use of Cannabis has no adverse effect upon mental or physical health: Cannabis is harmless, it even improves the mental and physical health;

    2) use of Cannabis does not cause any impairment to mental and physical abilities: Cannabis is safe, it even enhances these herein named abilities;

    3) modern Medical Case Histories show Cannabis to have numerous beneficial results to health: Cannabis is benign, it even cures from cancer and prevents one from other diseases.

    These people’s acquiescence to Prohibition is flagitious and fatal. Dishounourable self-interest produces their duplicity. They evade the guilt of their position which encourages governments Prohibition, by which the Owners and politicians cause suffering, incarceration, deaths and ecological disasters.

    However, to consent to any measure is to share responsibility for its results.

    The “law” is not simply “wrong”; it is the subterfuge of criminals. People’s intentions , guilty or innocent, are tested by their stance: if individuals be selfish and dishonest, or money-motivated, predictably, they do not support Relegalisation; but the honest person supports RESTORATION.

    In this sense, have a nice day.

  14. Avatar Steve Burgett says:

    When will people learn flood Your body fully with Cannabis.Eat it, smoke it, vaporize it, even drink it,have it pumped into Your body,THIS WILL KILL THE CANCER !!.Smoking it alone helps yet that is not enough.You must flood Your spirit with the medicine and let the light of it’s love save You. PEACE in light <3

  15. Avatar Charles Waller says:

    What was the purpose of using a picture of a female instead of available pictures of the actual judge?
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/19/nyregion/gustin-reichbach-judge-with-a-radical-history-dies-at-65.html?_r=0

    • Avatar Peter says:

      For the same reason people couldn’t scroll down to see the author’s name, laziness.

    • Avatar bkosar says:

      The image is Oakland County Circuit Judge Colleen O’Brien. She is an outspoken critic of medical marijuana and has literally given felonies to 70 year old grandmothers and does not believe in the law. Maybe the picture is intentional to demonstrate some point, or not.

  16. Avatar Jim says:

    Politicians care not about any cancer patient’s being helped by cannabis, even if was a close family member. They care only about getting re-elected (and the “campaign contributions” from the anti-marijuana businesses). Ideas are changing (one funeral at a time), but for now, few politicians will touch it, as it will hurt their bank accounts.

  17. Avatar Rick says:

    Judge, I’m sorry for your personal suffering. I hope everything turns out well. As for medical marijuana, I’m afraid no one will get my voice. I find it offensive and pointless, I find it cowardly and I find it distracting and a diversion. One day, when politicians no longer put re-election ahead of some popular issues that require them to take a stand knowing they’ll lose the support of some of their constituency, we will look back at the draconian view we once took of this rather innocuous plant whose properties are enjoyed by nearly as many as those who enjoy tea (often the same people). We will laugh at the years and lives we invested in trying to see what was good about alcohol, so good in fact that we objectified it along with beautiful people in jewels and slinky clothes, and made it something good to pursue, as we held funerals for all the road death victims whose lives would have been spared if they’d had a few hits on a joint at the party instead of the four martinis that slammed them into each other. Medical marijuana is a ruse, and it’s a weak, cowardly take on a ruse. Just decriminalize the stuff and let’s move onto some really necessary social legislation, about, say, education and the economy. Ban re-election and perhaps our leaders will vote their conscience instead of padding their chances to make their public service into a career.

  18. Avatar Elton says:

    I’m gone to inform my little brother, that he should also visit this webpage on regular basis to get updated from newest reports.

  19. Avatar Skylaire says:

    I have a friend facing federal prison time because of marijuana right now. He sees the judge tomorrow. Please – fix the headline! So I can have his lawyer give it to the judge! “A Judge’s Plea” please!!! THANK YOU. And thank you for posting.

  20. Avatar Jean in Okalhoma says:

    I APPLAUD YOU for speaking out!!!!!!!

  21. Avatar Laura says:

    Thank you for taking a stand and being brave. Thank you for fighting your fight on cancer.
    There are so many other issues they are finding being cured or bettered by medicinal marijuana. As you know pain and nausea are almost debilitating alone.
    I have fibromyalgia and along with it are a host of problems. For me anyway. I pass at least 3 kidney stones a month…sometimes more. I have at least 15-20 headache days a month with at least 12 being migraine. I can list so many more problems I have but I won’t. I can no longer work at the age of 38 I lost my job bc of my illness. It’s bad when I can no longer afford to go to the dr or get meds and have turned to medicinal marijuana out of necessity.
    Please help all of us?

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