Numerous Wisconsin medical cannabis patients and supporters are preparing testimony and travel plans for the combined Health committee hearing on the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act, on Tuesday, Dec. 15 at the State Capitol.
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And while the Capitol halls and the hearing room will likely see more first time medical marijuana patients and advocates sharing their stories than any time ever before, one patient who had become a familiar sight in her power wheelchair, will not be physically present.I remember listening as she described the difficulties she faced dealing with not only three serious terminal illnesses as well as Numerous Wisconsin medical cannabis patients and supporters are preparing testimony and travel plans for the combined Health committee hearing on the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act, on Tuesday, Dec. 15 at the State Capitol.
And while the Capitol halls and the hearing room will likely see more first time medical marijuana patients and advocates sharing their stories than any time ever before, one patient who had become a familiar sight in her power wheelchair, will not be physically present.
Mary Powers, a Wisconsin native and patient who had actually resided for a time in Washington State after medical marijuana was legalized there, had returned to her home state not long after. Afflicted with AIDS and hepatitis C, Mary became an AIDS activist in Wisconsin. But to accomplish that, with the help of friends, she first weaned herself off numerous medications that left her in a "brain fog", and replaced them with cannabis.
After a diagnosis with colon cancer and many treatments, a friend suggested she come to a meeting of the Madison NORML chapter after its formation in summer 2005. She joined the group and soon was a board member and officer. Mary quickly adapted her AIDS activism skills to the medical cannabis issue. On Nov. 22, 2005, Mary was one of a number of patients who testified at an Assembly Health committee hearing. The hearing was chaired by then-Rep. Gregg Underheim (R-Oshkosh).
I remember listening as she described the difficulties she faced dealing with not only three serious terminal illnesses as well as multiple toxic treatments and myriad side effects. Cannabis gave her back a little quality of life in a life that had few bright spots between the unending treatments, nausea and the waiting, not to mention frustration of life in wheelchair.
It was clear Mary was someone special and our friendship quickly grew. In the summer of 2007, with the first Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act pending, we frequently could be found visiting Capitol offices. On September 18, 2007, the First JRMMA was rolled out after a wheelchair march up State St. to the Capitol to mark the 10th anniversary of Jacki's 210- mile Journey for Justice wheelchair march. Mary was front and center in both the march and the Senate Parlor press conference with bill sponsors Res. Boyle and Pocan, that launched the bill.
Mary was quoted in an Oct. 2007 Wisconsin State Journal article, "Medical Marijuana Gets Heavy Support", "Mary Powers of Madison takes marijuana to relieve nausea caused by AIDS and cancer. (Wisconsin patients) can get the pot they smoke and bake with on the black market, but they say medical marijuana should be legal."
"Why should it be so hard?" said Powers, then 48 years old.
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In December of 2007, Mary, myself and another patient had a memorable encounter with Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford). As I noted at the time on the Madison NORML blog how Suder kept attacking the Jacki Rickert MMJ Act in the press, citing unnamed "Loopholes". My entry also described Mary's stubborn spirit. Mary did her best not to let her health problems slow her down, even though suffering greatly.
From the blog, "I noted that Mary, battling cancer, AIDS and HCV had been hospitalized until Sunday and yet came out in a blizzard to be at the Capitol today. I showed (Rep. Suder) a photo of Jacki Rickert and asked why he wanted to hurt her…I told him that some of us might not live to see next session, and that his opposition was helping ensure the bill would again die in committee without a hearing. Suder responded by stating his opposition, "was not personal," but was really unable to offer many specifics about the loopholes."
Unfortunately, Mary's cancer spread to her lungs. Further treatments and surgeries had helped. However, after seven courses of radiation and chemo, by early 2009, her body could stand no more.
With the change in leadership in the Wisconsin Assembly making the prospect of passing the Jacki Rickert MMJ Act a real possibility, Mary stepped up her efforts. When snowdrifts melted and Wisconsin's brutal winter finally subsided in the Spring of 2008, Mary was ready to hit the Capitol again.
Beginning in late April, we increased our visits to a weekly pace by mid-summer. Medical cannabis patients from around Wisconsin joined us. We had groups of up to seven or eight patients visiting offices and explaining what medical cannabis meant to their health. I began creating short videos with her, "The Mary and Gary show", that chronicled our lobby days.
No matter how she felt, Mary was always there waiting in the rotunda on lobby days. But then, in September 2009, in a matter of weeks, her prognosis was downgraded from years to months, then weeks. Our final lobby day was Oct. 7, 2009. Although carrying an oxygen tank, Mary was strong, and she helped change some minds and a couple legislator's official positions that day from against to "watching the debate with interest".
As I wrote in the Madison Wisconsin Capital Times in an OPED published Oct. 29: "Mary ran out of time on Thursday, Oct. 22, passing away peacefully at home. The legislation came too late for her. Although she served her country, she was forced to break the law to obtain the only medicine that treated all her symptoms and naturally elevated her mood as she struggled with multiple medical conditions, medication and treatment side effects, unending doctor visits, and way too many hours in ER and clinic waiting rooms. We can't turn back the clock and give Mary her medicine legally, but we can protect the other "Marys" still with us."
And that is why we have to keep pushing. Veterans need to step up for their fallen comrade. Mary's determination to keep pushing no matter how ill she felt, to do as much as she could every day, serves as a strong inspiration for activists. As her dear friend Jacki Rickert says, "This bill, this time!"
November 25, 2009
Madison NORML Examiner
Some patients will not make it to Dec. 15 Wisconsin medical marijuana hearing