Disabled Army vet in Madera needs medical marijuana for pain, but cannot easily get it

By John Camarena for The Fresno Bee

As a fully disabled Army veteran, managing my pain is always a challenge. After being medically discharged in 2013 due to a spinal and traumatic brain injury, I’ve experienced three spinal surgeries, three knee surgeries, and countless physical therapy and rehabilitation sessions. Yet my hometown of Madera, where I live with my wife and three young children, has chosen to stop access to the medicine that helps me most: cannabis.

On Nov. 16, Fresno Superior Court will be hearing the case, County of Santa Cruz et al. v. Bureau of Cannabis Control et al. Everyone with medical conditions should follow it, because today it’s me, but tomorrow it could be you.

Even though medical marijuana has been legal since 1996, and voters made adult-use legal in 2016, I’m still forced to make this argument in 2020: I have the right to get legal medicine delivered to my home.

After taking many prescription medications with debilitating side effects, I discovered cannabis was the best medicine for my chronic pain. I currently have eight lumbar screws, and three rods in my spine. The pain is constant, and to manage it, I need to medicate often and quickly when I feel it coming on.

Unfortunately, in the Central Valley, cannabis prohibition is alive and well. The city and county of Madera ban both cannabis stores and delivery, forcing me to drive to my closest storefront retailer 38 miles away in Merced to buy legal products. It’s a trek I schedule twice a month that costs me time, gas, and a babysitter for my 3-year-old, 15-month-old, and 2-month-old children. After spending almost an hour behind the wheel, I have to wait in line outside the dispensary because COVID limits in-store customers. This harms me because the drive alone takes a huge toll on my body, and being on my feet for any length of time is extremely difficult and painful.

My other option is delivery. Legal delivery is important to people like me, and fortunately our state Legislature and two governors have affirmed delivery is legal statewide. It’s definitely preferable to waiting outside a dispensary on my feet. But now the neighboring city of Clovis has doubled down and joined a lawsuit against the State of California to ban deliveries from other jurisdictions.

Every year, Americans for Safe Access releases its State of the States report, which grades each state on cannabis access. In this year’s report, the biggest barriers to access are local bans — just like the one in Madera.

This lawsuit is especially harmful during the pandemic. When COVID hit, California and 27 other states designated cannabis businesses an essential service. Why? Because it is. I’m living proof that cannabis helps sick people, and so are the 4.4 million other medical cannabis patients in America. We shouldn’t be forced to leave home to buy medicine, especially now.

That doesn’t matter to the Central Valley. The lawsuit County of Santa Cruz et al. v. Bureau of Cannabis Control et al. shows local municipalities valuing their power over the well-being of constituents. Access to medicine should not be political.

Whatever the council members’ personal feelings are about cannabis — or insulin, ibuprofen, prednisone or any other legal medication — I hope we can agree that sick people should have access to the tools that keep them well.