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The First Medical Marijuana Patient


The campaign to demonize the herb had left most Americans believing that marijuana was a dangerous substance that deserved to be illegal. Pierson was losing his battle with testicular cancer and found the chemotherapy “cure” worse than the disease.

Because of the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy, Pierson told his oncologist he wanted to stop the treatment. His doctor shocked Pierson when he asked if he had tried marijuana. Articles written in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1975 about the benefits of cannabis in the treatment of the side effects of cancer chemotherapy, had convinced some oncologists their patients had nothing to lose by trying the illegal substance.

Pierson took his doctor’s advice and was amazed by the outcome. “It was a miracle. A few puffs of pot took nausea away. And there was hardly any vomiting. Then I got really hungry. Hell, I ate so much I actually gained some weight,” Pierson would say.

A friend of Pierson’s, an older patient, would not try marijuana because of its illegality. After his friend died a horrible death, Pierson vowed he would not let that happen to others. He contacted Robert Randall, a glaucoma patient who had forced the government to give him federal supplies of marijuana in 1976 as the result of a successful court case—making Randall the nation’s only legal marijuana patient.

Pierson had something that Randall, a resident of the District of Columbia, did not have—a State Legislature. Randall encouraged Pierson to approach New Mexico’s State Legislature.  Pierson began his mission with a passion and lobbied all 96 members of New Mexico’s House of Representatives. He recruited the press to help him publicize what he was doing and was able to rally the help of other patients. The folks in Washington, D.C. heard of the uprising, as legislative committees began exploring ways to get marijuana supplies to cancer patients. The Feds cautioned that their actions were potentially in violation of federal law. Their strong-arm tactics did not sit well with the citizens of New Mexico.

Members of the State Legislature came up with a way the feds—who were constantly pointing to the lack of research—could not deny. New Mexican legislators wanted to establish a statewide program of research, using federal supplies of marijuana to treat cancer and glaucoma patients. The result was known as the Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act, which allowed the use of cannabis through a research program by the Food and Drug Administration, using cannabis supplied by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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