Monday May 18, 2009 – It’s 3 p.m. on a Monday, and Joe Gamble is struggling to make a cup of tea.
His arm flails away from the counter several times before he’s able to direct the sugar dispenser over the cup. The spoon twitches in his hand, banging against the sides of the mug.
Gamble pauses mid-sentence, unable to remember the ending of the story he just began telling.
Three hours have passed since Gamble, 33, last medicated himself. The symptoms of his multiple sclerosis are taking hold of his body.
Gamble takes a sip of tea and politely excuses himself. He shuffles to the door, climbs down two steps and plops down on the hood of the cherry red Porsche sitting in the driveway of his Liverpool home. He pulls a small marijuana pipe out of his pocket, brings it to his lips and inhales deeply.
A look of relief flashes across Gamble’s face. He also looks a little guilty.
“Every time I light that pipe, I feel like a criminal,” Gamble says. “I shouldn’t have to. I’m way too sick for that.”
The state Senate has yet to vote on the issue, but medical marijuana bills have passed the Assembly twice — in 2007 and 2008. Each time, votes followed party lines.
Democrats approved the legislation, while Republicans voted against it. The trend included Central New York lawmakers.
Why the “no” votes?
Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, said he believes legalization is a federal issue.
“Nationally, it’s against the law to purchase and distribute marijuana, period,” Kolb said. “Right now, if we set up a mechanism for marijuana to be sold, it would be in (conflict with) federal law. If Congress wants to set national policy on something of this nature, that’s fine. But I don’t think it’s up to individual states to determine drug policy.”
A few puffs later and the change in Gamble is striking. The tension in his limbs lessens. His gait improves. He speaks clearly and freely.
“What am I supposed to do?” Gamble asks, almost pleading for approval. “Marijuana makes my life a little livable. I don’t get stoned. I don’t get that euphoric feeling. It just helps the tremors.”
Two years ago, Gamble was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis. Unlike other forms of the disease, Gamble’s type of MS promises a steady progression of disability without relapse or remission. There is no cure.
Gamble remembers the exact moment he knew he was sick. He was flying a jet, doing 600 mph and climbing to 36,000 feet when his body went numb from the neck down.
Before being diagnosed, Gamble spent most of his waking hours flying: first, as an Army paratrooper, then as a transport pilot. During his almost 13 years in aviation, he flew the bodies of dead soldiers home to their families, carried travelers to their destinations as a commercial pilot for US Airways and shuttled celebrities, dignitaries and politicians to events on private planes.
“Now it’s the politicians I used to fly that need to help me out, help out us sick people,” Gamble said.
Grounded because of his illness, Gamble now uses his time to advocate for the legalization of medical marijuana. He recently traveled to Albany to tell lawmakers his story first hand.
“I used to be a hot-shot pilot,” Gamble said. “Now, I’m all about the MS awareness.”
Should New York legalize marijuana for medical purposes?
Of course. If people are in pain and this helps them, what’s the harm?
I’m leaning against. Aren’t there other alternatives?
I’m leaning in favor. Marijuana can’t be much worse than other pain relievers already available.
Absolutely not. There are better options.
Gamble is far from the stereotypical tie-dyed hippie pushing for pot. He’s clean cut. He wears a crucifix around his neck and a dog tag engraved with the words, “God doesn’t give what you can’t handle.”
He hopes his military experience gives him credibility.
“I’m not glad that I’m sick, but I’m glad that because of my background, maybe people will listen to me,” Gamble said.
State lawmakers this year have introduced bills in both the Senate and Assembly to protect patients from being arrested if they use medical marijuana under a doctor’s recommendation. Similar legislation passed the Assembly two straight years but died each session in the Senate.
“Medical marijuana’s safety and efficacy in treating certain painful, often life-threatening diseases is a well-documented scientific fact,” said Sen. Thomas Duane, D-Manhattan, the Senate sponsor of the bill. “There is no reason we can’t establish common sense controls to ensure safe access to this medicine for suffering patients who have their doctors’ recommendations while ensuring it doesn’t wind up in the wrong hands.”
“It is cruel to make seriously ill patients criminals for relying on medical marijuana for relief when their doctor recommends it,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-New York, the bill’s Assembly sponsor. Full article here.