Montel's Five Minutes

September 24, 2004

Montel Williams, Alternet

Mr. President: In the eyes of the public, I am an all-American tough guy, a former naval intelligence officer, a motivational speaker and a TV talk show host. I am beamed into the homes of millions of people around the globe each weekday. I urge individuals and family members to do better, to be better. But there is another side to my story.

For more than twenty years I have lived with a chronic, potentially debilitating disease called multiple sclerosis (MS). I have neuralgic pain in my feet and legs so severe that I have twice attempted suicide — the ultimate trauma to my kids and family, the ultimate sin against God. I have stayed awake for nights on end, rocked by violent spasms in my legs. Physicians have prescribed myriad painkillers and antispasmodic drugs — each more toxic than the next, each less effective than the other.

I have taken Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin, and a morphine drip, risking overdose to subdue the pain. Instead, I became spacey and dull. I could not function. Something had to give. Something did. I discovered medical marijuana, which is illegal everywhere in the country according to federal law, even though eight states have laws in effect that allow patients to use it without fear of arrest.

On many days, I live with pain that is a seven on a scale of one to ten, and with nerves so raw that if you brush against me in an elevator, I just want to scream. Medical marijuana brings that pain down to a three or four. But every day I am forced to make the choice between criminality and management of my symptoms.

Mr. President, I am not alone. Tens of thousands of Americans, your citizens, make this daily choice. They are people like me who suffer from pain and spasms from MS, wasting from AIDS and cancer, and from numerous other symptoms. Because of medical marijuana, those of us with chronic or life-threatening illnesses have emerged from the haze of narcotic-based or morphine-like painkillers and other toxic medications to continue being productive citizens.

For people like me who have been through the gamut of FDA-approved drugs with no relief, marijuana has given us our lives back. It allows us to sleep through the night, to gain weight and strength, to read a bedtime story to our child, to run an office. It offers us the liberty — the freedom to live with dignity — that is one of our inalienable rights as American citizens.

The states with strong medical marijuana laws have built-in safety measures to ensure that the drug is not opened up to recreational users. It must be recommended by a physician, and, in most cases, patients must register with a state or local health authority. There are also reasonable limits on how much of the drug an individual or a caretaker can possess.

Mr. President, I urge you to support legal access to medical marijuana across our great nation. I urge you to support legislation that would change marijuana from a Schedule I drug, a group that includes heroin, LSD, and Quaaludes, to a Schedule II drug, which includes drugs, like amphetamines and morphine, that are prescribed in extreme cases. As a Schedule II drug, marijuana could be prescribed by a physician — with all the checks and balances to keep patients like me safe.

That’s all I ask of you. True compassion with all the conservative medical and legal boundaries in place. What better legacy to leave?

Montel Williams, an Emmy Award–winning talk show host, is a retired naval officer and the author of six books, including 'Climbing Higher,' about living with MS.



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