I met Matthew Ducheneaux in 1998. In ‘85, he rolled his car, drunk, and broke his neck. For the rest of his life he was paralyzed from the neck down, with a little movement in a couple of fingers on his left hand. He could operate the controls of a motorized wheelchair with finger and thumb.
In ‘89 Matt was accepted into the Compassionate Investigational New Drugs Study (CINDS) . Created in 1978, CINDS is administrated by the FDA. 30 patients were sent 300 rolled cannabis cigarets per month for a while (5 still receive them), supposedly in a government study of the therapeutic effect of cannabis on otherwise untreatable conditions.
Hundreds more people were accepted into the program, but they fell into Matt’s category. That is, they were approved by the FDA to receive cannabis from the government, but the DEA created such stringent rules for them that they were unable to take advantage of the medical treatment. In 1992, the Bush administration ended the program because they saw that AIDS patients were living too long when they were able to use cannabis to stimulate their appetites.
In Matt’s case, the DEA required that the government cannabis be sent to a pharmacy, where he could pick up a few days’ supply at a time. Matt found a drugstore in Sioux Falls that agreed to accept the responsibility. The DEA then required the pharmacy to maintain a 24-hour armed guard on the cannabis. The pharmacy pulled out of that deal, understandably.
As with every single government constraint on cannabis, the DEA’s requirements made no sense. Pharmacies are not required to keep an armed guard on their stocks of morphine and oxycodone.
Matt was able to fill his prescription at the same drugstore where you and I and your grandkids get their cannabis. That store is never closed, doesn’t require ID or prescription, and provides its own security.
When I met Matt, I was on the ballot as the Libertarian nominee for governor of SD. I went to his trailer house in Sioux Falls. As I walked in, I saw his legs trembling, his feet beating a tattoo on the floor. The salt and pepper shakers on his table were marching toward the edge.
He pointed to the table, where I saw a box with papers and a bag of weed. “Roll me a doob, man,” he said. I did, lit it, and held it to his mouth. He drew, exhaled, and the tremors stopped. “Thanks,” he smiled.
Spastic tremors, involuntary muscle contractions, are a common affliction among the spinally injured and those with MS. Sometimes they are so strong that they throw people out of their wheelchairs or break bones.
In 2000, Ducheneaux was arrested at the Jazz and Blues Festival in Sioux Falls. A cop spotted him medicating in a secluded area away from the crowd. He was charged with misdemeanor possession.
In 2002, his case went to trial, after some of the most convoluted SoDak Supreme Court decisions regarding the accepted common law premise that a person may violate the letter of the law in order to prevent a greater harm. For instance, a person may use a boat not his own without permission in order to save a drowning person. Apparently, the court felt that does not apply if the drowning person is yourself.
Magistrate Patricia Riepel in Sioux Falls would have allowed Matt to present the defense that cannabis alleviated his suffering, and he would have prevailed in front of a jury. Senior Circuit Judge Peter Lieberman overruled Riepel, so the trial was held without that defense.
Matt told his story to the jury. Riepel was then compelled to tell the jury, “Doesn’t matter. He had weed, you must find him guilty.” They did. Riepel sentenced Matt to 30 days in jail, credit for one day served, the rest suspended. She fined him $250, asking if he needed time to pay it.
Matt said, “I will never pay it.” She smiled and said, “Take as much time as you need.”
Matt died in 2005. He aspirated and choked on a device he wore in his mouth at night to prevent him from grinding his teeth.
As I write this, if there were an opponent to IM13 in my office, I am in a mood that would lead me to adjust that opponent’s attitude with the axe handle I keep around to protect my stash of medicine.
A copy of this is being forwarded to Todd Williams.