Woman who fought to legalize medical marijuana dies

January 07, 2008

Tom Gilchrist, Bay City Times (MI)

BEAVERTON - Long before Mae Nutt was ''Grandma Marijuana,'' Mary Offenbecker simply knew her as a loving mother.

Nutt, 86, a former Gladwin County resident who gained fame fighting to legalize marijuana for medical use, died Jan. 1 in California.

Offenbecker, who lived near Nutt for years in Gladwin County's Billings Township, knew Mae Nutt as ''Babe,'' and said Nutt lost two sons to cancer.

Nutt became known by the national media as ''Grandma Marijuana'' while trumpeting how the illegal drug helped her son, Keith, who died at age 23 in 1979.

''That marijuana was the only thing keeping Keith from (vomiting). It was pretty sad,'' said Offenbecker, 79, of Billings Township, where a memorial service for Nutt will occur June 28 in the township cemetery.

''Babe was a very good mother,'' Offenbecker said. ''She believed in marijuana for medical use, and we all did after we saw how it helped Keith.

''Babe and I didn't live that far apart and I wasn't the only one who saw how the drug helped Keith. The other neighbors saw it, too.''

Mae Nutt moved from Michigan to California several years ago. Offenbecker doesn't recall Mae Nutt smoking marijuana, but said Gladwin County locals made sure the Nutt family had a supply of the drug as Keith Nutt battled cancer.

''I could tell you where she got some of it, but I don't think you want to know, so we'll just leave it at that,'' Offenbecker said.

Mae Nutt testified in Washington, D.C., before the National Drug Enforcement Administration in 1988. Two years later, she won The Robert Randall Award for Citizen's Action from the Drug Policy Foundation, which is dedicated to liberalizing drug policies in the U.S.

Newspapers and magazines wrote about Mae Nutt's crusade to legalize medical marijuana use. In 1991, reporters featured Nutt and Beaverton resident Bill Sebastian on the CBS Evening News.

''They took a few pictures and had me roll one and smoke it on camera,'' said Sebastian, now 76, who still lives in Beaverton.

Sebastian said he no longer smokes marijuana, but said he did so at the time to relieve pain and pressure from glaucoma.

Sebastian, who is blind, lost one eye as a U.S. Army soldier in the Korean War, when a hand grenade exploded near him while he lay on the ground, already bleeding from a bullet wound in each of his legs.

After glaucoma struck, doctors removed his remaining eye.

''Sometimes I think about getting some marijuana and trying it again - I have such pain in my legs and hips any more,'' Sebastian said.

Sebastian said national publicity about his use of marijuana as a pain-killer caused a few members of his Beaverton church to criticize him for using pot.

''They thought there should be an alternative besides marijuana, but they don't know the situation,'' Sebastian said. ''If it had been them, it would be different.''

Sebastian said Mae Nutt, however, told him ''There's no proof of anybody ever dying from smoking marijuana.''

Mary Offenbecker said she once served on the Billings Township Board of Trustees with Nutt's late husband, Arnold Nutt, elected by voters as the township supervisor.

''Nobody out here shunned Babe or Arnold - they were good people,'' Offenbecker said.

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