Guest Column: Former US Attorney for Arizona explains why he supports medical-marijuana law

2013-03-25T00:00:00Z Guest Column: Former US Attorney for Arizona explains why he supports medical-marijuana lawA. Melvin McDonald Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

I was a prosecutor with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office from 1970 to 1974.

I served seven years as a Maricopa County Superior Court judge.

In 1981, I was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve as U.S. attorney. The top priority of my office from 1981 to 1985 was fighting the drug war.

It would be natural to assume that I would oppose Arizona's voter-approved medical-marijuana law, which allows people with certain medical conditions to have access to medical marijuana through state-licensed regulated dispensaries. But sometimes it takes extraordinary circumstances to get people to see ordinary truths.

So here is my story.

In August of 1997, my 14-year-old son was hit by a car and thrown 125 feet across a busy intersection in Gilbert. He sustained severe and permanent brain damage. After the near-fatal accident, the brain injury evolved into frequent and massive epileptic seizures. These seizures have been regular occurrences for the past 16 years. His condition has been evaluated and treated by top experts from the UCLA Medical Center to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale to the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.

In 2003, the seizure condition became so severe that my wife and I and our son agreed to have a portion of his brain removed in the hope that might stop his agony. We were told it had two-thirds chance of success. Unfortunately, we ended up in the one-third - the surgery failed to stop the seizures.

In the early years following the accident and onset of the seizures, my son was in a state of constant nausea and would go days at a time without eating. The seizures would make him severely nauseous, and the medications prescribed to treat epilepsy caused severe nausea as side effects. Nothing worked, not even the prescription drug Marinol. His weight dropped from 180 pounds to 119 pounds. He felt better starving than eating.

Then a friend with severe pain issues gave him some marijuana, which proved to be the only substance that would curtail the nausea. This was prior to Arizona's medical marijuana law.

So there I was - the man appointed by President Reagan to head the drug war in Arizona - with pot being used to help my son have some semblance of quality of life.

My wife had to be resourceful to gain access to marijuana. The choice for her was brutally harsh - find ways to give your son life- saving marijuana so he could eat and diminish the nausea knowing that her loving help for our son could potentially result in criminal prosecution.

When Arizona voters approved medical marijuana in 2010, our family rejoiced. Now my wife and son are faced with the possibility of returning to the underground, to those days of uncertainty, his medical purgatory, a hellish quality of life. There are efforts in the Legislature to undermine the medical-marijuana law with overly broad police powers. Some have even said they want to re-vote and repeal the measure. To those behind these efforts I say, come and see and speak with our family and my son. Tell him there are no benefits.

We are here and we will use our voices to fight for people like my son. Because to take away my son's medical marijuana would be like taking insulin away from a Type 1 diabetic. Reform the system where it should be, but do not criminalize the behavior of my wife, other mothers and fathers, or patients, who seek only to use the one plant that gives them some quality of life. That would be the real crime.

A. Melvin McDonald practices law in the Phoenix area.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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