My name is Jeremy Theoret, co-founder and President of Drug War Stories.
I am an attorney and a former patient in the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program. I have Ankylosing Spondylitis (“AS”). AS is an auto-immune disease characterized by painful joint inflammation and degeneration, particularly of the spinal region, with additional joints being implicated in approximately thirty percent of sufferers, myself among them. The immune system attacks the cartilage in my body and turns it into bone. In addition to the severe pain, stiffness and general fatigue are typical symptoms in AS sufferers.
I first learned of my AS in my early twenties. Throughout my twenties and thirties I had painful flair-ups of the disease, with severe back pain and physical limitations for a week or two at a time. Then in my late thirties and early forties the disease became more severe. Instead of experiencing just occasional flair-ups my AS symptoms became ever-present. I experienced severely painful and debilitating back spasms. I have a limited range of motion as my sacroiliac and several vertebrae of my neck have fused together. Other areas of my body affected included my shoulders, elbows, knees, and the tendons in my feet, which made walking sometimes difficult to impossible. Because of the fusing and pain, for many years I could only sleep flat on my back with no pillow. I felt like, and sometimes wished I was, a corpse. My seventy year old father, who suffered from emphysema, could move faster than I could, even during the months leading up to his death.
In about 2000, I discovered the benefits of smoking marijuana for my AS. Medical marijuana had been legal in California for about 4 years by then. Even when thousands of milligrams of ibuprofen offered no relief, I found that marijuana reduced my pain, helped me to relax, and made me feel more invigorated. I still suffered horribly from the disease, but everyday living became tolerable again.
Before I became a lawyer, I was a teacher. In the fall of 2006 I started teaching at a new charter school. To help me cope with my AS I would occasionally get a massage from a licensed therapist. My therapist was rather “new age” and typically burned Chinese Sage and incense during a massage. On one occasion that November, following a massage, I went to school with the scent of burned sage still in my hair. After school I received a call from the principal informing me that the secretary had told her that I “smelled like marijuana.” I explained what the smell actually was and offered to bring in some of the sage or refer her to my massage therapist. She told me she had already brought the accusation to the school board, which wanted me to take a drug test. I told her I would not take a drug test for two reasons: first, I had never used drugs before teaching and did not smell like marijuana, but sage; and second, taking a drug test would reveal marijuana since I used it at home for my AS. The principal was fully aware of my medical condition and its debilitating effects on me. Indeed, my slow and painful hunched walks down the school hallways were well known.
The principal told me that she would get back to me. The next day she told me that she had informed the board that I had admitted to marijuana use and the board had told her to fire me if I did not either take a drug test or resign. When I asked what would happen if I took a drug test and tested positive for marijuana, she responded that I would be fired. So I resigned. Unfortunately, I was unemployed for over three months, and by March 2007, the only teaching position I could find was literally one no one else wanted, two teachers having previously resigned. At that point I was beginning to lose hope, but I decided that after what I had been through, I would go to law school.
In the summer of 2007 New Mexico enacted The Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, creating the Medical Cannabis Program. Unfortunately, the enumerated qualifying conditions did not initially include either AS or chronic pain, and I was unable to qualify for the program at that time.
In the fall of 2007 I started attending law school. I also started injections of Humira at that time, a biologic drug that provided significant relief for my AS. However, as I suffered from severe AS, I was still plagued by pain and stiffness which I continued to alleviate with cannabis. I cannot imagine going to law school without either Humira or cannabis to help me to cope with my condition, especially as I often sat and studied for at least twelve hours a day. But I was finally able to live my life more fully again and the combination of these two drugs made it possible for me to endure the rigors of law school.
In the summer of 2009, chronic pain was added as a qualifying condition under the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program. This became my first opportunity to register for the program. Still, I was reluctant to expose myself to any negative ramifications for using cannabis, whether it would be “legal” in New Mexico or not. Then in October of 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a memo regarding non-prosecution of persons acting in compliance with their state’s medical marijuana laws. I believed the time had come for me to register for the Medical Cannabis Program for relief of the chronic pain associated with my AS. In New Mexico, registering as a patient with chronic pain required referrals from both a specialist and a primary care doctor, unlike the other enumerated conditions at that time, which required only one referral.
My rheumatologist signed my referral and I made an appointment with my PCP to have him fill out a referral form as well. He was completely in agreement that AS qualified as chronic pain, and was surprised that AS was not one of the enumerated conditions. However, he was not able to sign the referral, he explained, because he had recently been appointed to a sports medicine board for the State and had specifically been asked not to participate in the cannabis program due to “conflict of interest” concerns. He made some calls and referred me to another provider he said would refer me. However, when I went to that provider, he told me that he would not refer me because the program was “very controversial.”
Rather than finding a new (third) PCP just to get a second referral, I decided instead to petition the Medical Advisory Board to add AS to the list of qualifying conditions. On December 4, 2009, I filed the petition and subsequently testified at the Medical Advisory Board Hearing on December 11, 2009. The Medical Advisory Board unanimously recommended adding AS to the list of qualifying conditions. On February 12, 2010, the Secretary of Health added auto-immune mediated arthritis, which includes AS and other diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, to the list of qualifying conditions. On February 19, 2010 I was registered in the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program.
In May, 2010, I graduated law school with honors, passed the bar examination and was admitted to the Bar in September, 2010.
My first case as an attorney was representing Robert Jones, a seventy year old cancer patient and registered New Mexico Medical Cannabis user, who had been terminated from his HUD Section 8 Housing Subsidy for using marijuana and was facing eviction from his home. Robert’s story and video from his appeal hearing can be found here.
Robert’s case, as well as my own experiences, convinced me that the War on Drugs was a complete and utter failure, that caused unnecessary and preventable harm to millions and millions of people, with absolutely no benefits. I started researching the issues and discovered the horrors and tragedies caused by this senseless war – America’s longest and certainly one of the most costly. I started drugwarstories initially in 2011 as a non-profit, but that first effort didn’t quite work out as I’d planned.
The need to support my family required me to work full time, leaving very little resources available to pursue my goal of putting a human face on the Drug War by telling the stories of those who have been among the casualties of it. But circumstances have changed, and the time is now to tell this story, and the stories of millions of other who have suffered needlessly.
The Humira has essentially arrested my AS now, and I no longer need cannabis as I once did to help me cope with my symptoms, but my passionate desire to help end the Drug War has only increased. I believe unequivocally,that marijuana should be legal for any adult who wishes to use it, to alleviate pain or cope with a disease, or just to relax. The Drug War must end – responsible drug use should not be illegal and drug abuse and addiction are health, not criminal matters – and the beginning of the end must be the end of the prohibition against marijuana.
I was never comfortable violating the law, even when I believed there was a greater interest or good weighed in favor of doing so. Becoming a lawyer added considerably to the level of my discomfort, and indeed, my admission of marijuana use on the application for the Bar required me to attend a hearing to determine whether my character qualified me to join the legal profession (the result, obviously was positive). I’ve seen the devastating effects of the war on drugs on young children and their families from the perspective of the classroom. I’ve seen the waste of resources and human potential caused by the war on drugs through a legal lens. I’ve come to understand its horrors personally, and as a citizen, and I’ve come to believe there is no more compelling and worthy cause for me to advocate for. The fact that America, the land of the free, has more people in prison than any other nation on earth is simply appalling.
I don’t particularly enjoy publicly disclosing private information or potentially facing public scrutiny for having used marijuana. However, since I believe in standing up for what is right, I have chosen to take the only just and courageous action that I can, and tell my story and the stories of anyone else I can. When things looked most bleak, I have taken solace in the following words:
One may want to ask: ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws … One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter From Birmingham Jail.
Watch video of me testifying at a New Mexico Medical Cannabis Hearing in October 2011: