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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : opinions : commentary September 28, 2016


2/12/2013 1:01:00 PM
My Turn: It takes extraordinary circumstances to get people to see ordinary truths
A. Melvin McDonald
A. Melvin McDonald

I was a prosecutor with the Maricopa County Attorney’s office from 1970-1974.

I served seven years as a Maricopa County Superior Court judge after leaving the County Attorney’s office.

In 1981, I was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve as U.S. Attorney. The top priority of my office from 1981-1985 was fighting the drug war. While serving as United States Attorney, I was a member of the Advisory Committee to U.S. Attorney General William French Smith and was involved in setting national policies and priorities.

It would be natural, based on my background, 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. And that is the case with me.

So here is my story.

In 1997, my 14-year-old son was hit by a car and thrown 125 feet across a busy intersection in Gilbert, Arizona. 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.

One of his many seizures has left him with uncontrollable shaking in his left arm. Some of the world’s finest neurologists and neurosurgeons have prescribed have prescribed various combinations of approximately 30 different mediations.

His condition has been evaluated and treated by some of the top experts in the country, from UCLA Medical Center to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale to Barrow’s Neurological 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 hopes this might stop his agony. We were told it had two-thirds chance of working. Unfortunately, we were in the one-third.

In the early years following the accident, my son was in a state of constant nausea and would go days at a time without eating. Nothing worked, not even the prescription drug Marinol. We learned early on that despite the significant doses of various medications, nothing stopped the seizures and nothing stopped the nausea, which arose from both the seizures and the medications.

His weight dropped from 180 pounds to 119 pounds because of the severe nausea. He would go days at a time without eating.

Nothing worked until 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 find some peace and to have some semblance toward a quality of life.

My wife had to be resourceful to gain access to marijuana. But if you are a parent, if you are a mother, is there anything you won’t do to aid your ailing child? 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 our son could purchase higher quality and effective marijuana for what is truly a legitimate reason. My wife could drive him to state approved dispensaries and purchase medically approved marijuana cultivated for that precise medical need – nausea.

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 is a bill in the legislature that aims to revote and repeal the medical marijuana law. They say the jury is still out on marijuana’s medical benefits, that there are too many problems with the program.

To those proponents of repeal I say – come and see and speak with our family and my son. Tell him there are no benefits. Tell his Mom and Dad. In 16 years, with the greatest medical and pharmaceutical minds in the country, no one has found a plant that diminishes the nausea like marijuana.

There are plenty of folks in Arizona like me -- who don’t fit the profile of a medical marijuana advocate. We are here and we will use our voices to fight for people like my son. Because to take away my son’s marijuana would be like taking insulin away from a Type 1 diabetic, or taking pain medications away from a cancer patient because there are some out there who abuse pain medications. Reform the system where it should be, but do not condemn my family and my son to a life of desperation rather than decency?

Don’t criminalize 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. To take the one healing plant from the medically needy and criminalize their desperate need for relief provided my professionally cultivated marijuana would be the real crime.



A. Melvin McDonald is a a former US attorney who led the drug war in Arizona for Ronald Reagan


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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Article comment by: Barnaby Wild

Thanks for sharing your story. I don't understand why folks like yourself cannot legally grow your own medicine.

Here's a great opportunity for us to keep government out of our lives. Let our overworked police concentrate on crime and violence and let our overworked doctors focus on those who are curable with standard medicine.


Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Article comment by: Slater Slater

Instead of painting all with a wide brush,why not
go on a new case by case and then have the state give the qualifiers a prescription through
their doctors.
This way you could still rob the possers.


Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Article comment by: For AZ Lawyer

Yes, this speaks to the issue beyond "medical" use, which is a bit off topic, but SERIOUSLY now........ Is everyone really SO surprised to see some people going the medical route just to be able to imbibe a substance that has so many psycho-emotional positive effects? Like for PTSD and depression? Not considered medical, but huge issues affecting millions.

I mean...what would have happened if the only way alcohol could've been legalized was if its "medical" effects were sold to the voters? LOLOLOL And even with how hard it is on the body, NO one is coming forward trying to enact prohibition again, are they?

It's just all too ridiculous and irrational and perverse... To those who suffer from all manner of things pot helps, I suppose many would say, Hey, just go have a drink, right?


Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Article comment by: Lee Cali

What a heart wrenching story. I am sure there are thousands like it. I hope Mr. McDonald sends this letter to each and every legislator in our state capitol.

Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Article comment by: Mary Heartman

@ Melvin McDonald
Your integrity is so impressive. Although I've opposed the war on drugs since its inception, I have to believe you, personally, conducted your part in it with insight and compassion. Thank you for having the courage and concern to correct an error in national judgement.

I'll certainly forward your commentary to all my representatives in local, state, and national government. It will especially help those of us who believe marijuana should be reclassified communicate with people who are equally sure they are doing the right thing in the right way. (Governor Brewer and Vice-President Biden spring to mind.)


Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Article comment by: AZ Lawyer

I've been a criminal attorney for over a decade, and I have represented many card carrying medical marijuana users. Unfortunately, I have concluded that virtually every one of my clients did not have any discernible medical need justifying their prescription beyond that of recreational use. While the medical condition of Mr. McDonald's son demonstrates a clear need for prescribed marijuana, I fear that those doctors who issue such prescriptions do so too liberally.

Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Article comment by: Tom Babbitt

Leaders create new things, Include all of the community and address grievances. Arizona has no leaders, what we have are Apocalyptic drama queens. Apocalyptic drama queens pick an issue to oppose and then try to shove it down your throat.

Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Article comment by: Thank you, Mr. McDonald...

...for having the courage and strength of character to tell the truth you've discovered for yourself, after having held the opposing view.

Posted this under the State News story of how Mr. Kavanagh is doing his best to repeal the MM act, based on his own subjective and hallucinatory bias....but I'm not sure how many people saw it, and now the story has scrolled away. It's a matter of public record! Check it out:

"US Patent 6630507 Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants

Application: filed on 2/02/2001

US Patent Issued on October 7, 2003

Assignee: The United States of America, as represented by the Department of Health and Human Services"

Takes quite an active imagination, does it not, to oppose the veracity and validity of a natural substance so well proven to be of true assistance, that the U.S. government sought to obtain, and received, a patent on it... But we've seen just how far certain capacities for denial have driven our elected officials, haven't we...


Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Article comment by: common sense

Is Jan Brewer going to try and discredit what this man has said or is she just going to ignore anything she doesn't want to agree with? The truth is the truth and this states government doesn't want the truth.



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