By Chris Suttle
Most of us can still recall the more lucid moments of our 21st birthday. The ones that ended up splashing into a well of alcoholic memory loss like the cubes of ice in that final drink were likely captured on film by your friends. For me, I spent my 21st birthday alone, celebrating my graduation from a walker to a cane. 2 years prior I was unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a distracted drivers worst fear. I was hit standing next to my bike by a runaway driver at 60 mph. I was thrown in the air a good 4 feet before somehow landing upright with a loud “snap” ringing in my ears. I turned my head just in time to see their taillights crossing the small bridge by the Channel Bass Restaurant on Hatteras Island, North Carolina.
I screamed at the few passing cars still on the road after 9 pm in a town of only 1200 people. I think it was something along the lines of “I’ve been hit! Why are you not stopping?!” I managed to focus my now crimson tainted vision on the stop sign in front of the famous Hatterasman Drive In and started repeating “left foot, right foot, left foot right foot,” until I reached the hood of a strangers car. I cried out as loudly as I could “Please call my Dad” before I blacked out.
I awoke to a flood of flashing lights and familiar faces flat on my back covered in wool blankets. A team of volunteer firemen began to lift me just enough to slide a wooden bodyboard under me until the EMT’s arrived with a gurney. I remember hearing the voice of our local Methodist Minister praying for me to have safe and swift passage to the closet hospital. It was, in retrospect a pretty important prayer at that moment since the closest true medical facility was over 2 ½ hours away in Chesapeake VA.
The last thing I remember clearly was the excruciating pain of being strapped to a gurney in an ambulance as it went as quickly as possible over the numerous railroad tracks that exist between Hatteras Village and Chesapeake General. If you’re wondering, in 1998 that number was four, two of which are less than a few feet apart. I managed to stay conscious for 1 ½ of them.
The total damage? Three hairline fractures in my spine, all inoperable due to my age and the continuing formation of my growth plates, severed hip muscle on the right side, massive bruising to the abdominal wall resulting in numerous tears and a ringing in my head that will stop the same day my heart does.
My treatment options were limited due to the youthful age of my skeletal structure and I was discharged after two weeks with a list of medications and a lot of couch time in my future. One of the main medications is our old friend OxyContin. I took one, one single pill and 6 hours later I threw the rest of them away. It wasn’t due to a lack of effectiveness, but said potency brought me to the realization that the false euphoria I felt would be my chasing the dragon for the remainder of my adult life if I ever took a second pill.
So now I do, what? Stay in constant pain the remainder of my recovery along with the life long pain a massive trauma can possibly leave, or disassociate from reality by means of more pills until my body succumbs to kidney failure at, if I’m lucky, 35. Not great choices so I went with plan B: weed.
How I came to know of the medicinal properties of cannabis prior to the legal age of 21 will have to remain one of those rum induced campfire stories I tell my closest compatriots so let’s just say I had an associate degree in growing your own weed around the same time I enrolled in an associate degree at Chowan University in 1996. The knowledge I gained allowed me to treat my pain during the most crucial times of my recovery which allowed my body to stay still and do what it needed to do best at that time, rest.
It was a lot of counting flowers on the wall moments, the kind that toy at your sanity like a cat would a feather toy. I pulled through, somewhat, recovering mostly from the majority of my injuries except for one small hairline fracture at the base of my spine.
I’ll fast forward for you and say the shelf life on that fracture should have read “expires” 2004 because that’s when my back broke and took a good majority of the nerves near the base of my spine with it. 3 disk had to be removed total and something called lumber displacement surgery had to be performed for me to regain feeling in about 60% of my body.
What’s the point of this long-winded origin story and what does it have to do with medicinal cannabis? Cannabis is the only thing I used for pain management during the entire length of my recovery, and to this day it’s my preferred method of dealing with degenerative osteoarthritis.
Current laws in NC define me as I a criminal for choosing to manage my chronic pain with cannabis. And while the outlaw life is fun when you’re 26, not so much at 44. There have been times where due to lack of supply or the inability to grow my own, I have had to fall back on prescription pain management options excluding OxyContin.
That is why the fight for cannabis legalization is so important to me. That is why I work 18 hour shifts, six days a week. When I’m not at the NCGA I’m delivering for Postmates, or doing my stupid human trick of breathing fire in front of strangers for money. All of my work as a citizen advocate for the legalization of medicinal and recreational cannabis in NC is pro Bono. So my car is my office and I call to set appointments with Senators and Representatives in between Postmates deliveries and spend every Tuesday and Thursday for the remainder of my foreseeable future in the halls of the Legislative offices. Here’s the general tone of that brick and mortar building I know lovingly call a second home.
A recent poll released by Elon University shows that 68% of NC is in favor of cannabis legalization. Despite this and numerous other polls, medical research and scientific data showing the numerous benefits to both the people and the economy of NC, the NCGA continues to be a challenging place to find allies, especially in the House.
There is hope, regardless of the ancient “Reefer Madness” inspired mentality that still exists within the walls of the NCGA. With each new citizen advocate that signs up for the free training at NCNORML.org the winds of change grow, their speed increasing past Gail force winds to a full-blown hurricane. Every day another strip of siding is blown off the side of the NCGA building as NC citizen advocates flood the hallways of the Legislative offices armed with the latest scientific and medical research available to educate and hopefully change the hearts and minds of the NC Legislature.
NC is a “Dillon’s Rule” State. The definition of “Dillon’s Rule” is longer and more boring than I would wish the reader to suffer through so to keep it short and simple; no citizen can introduce a bill to the NCGA through petition or citizen initiative, only the elected individuals that make up the NCGA can.
That’s where the citizen advocacy program comes in. Thanks to the mentorship of an experienced retired lobbyist and the amazing support of the other pro Bono volunteers at NC NORML, they have created a free training program on how to become an effective advocate for cannabis legalization that is available to any and all North Carolinians. Orientation dates for the program can be found on the website or by following @NC_NORML on Twitter.
Is it effective? Let’s look at one of the most historic days in the NCGA history which occurred on April 7th of this year. 7 different bills regarding medicinal cannabis and even full legalization for NC were filed. A bill for the legalization of medicinal cannabis has appeared in some form or fashion for the past five years, but never seven in the same day. Two more were introduced on April 12th as well bringing the total to 9 bills for the 2021 legislative session
The people have spoken before, but now their voice is amplified by the recent increase in citizen advocacy in our state. There’s a hurricane coming NC, and it’s eye is headed directly for the NCGA. It’s time to help or move to higher ground because the flood waters will continue to rise and we will never stop until North Carolinians are free to pursue the same civil liberties as other citizens of this great nation in regards to cannabis use. Hold fast NC, change is coming and it has a name, SB Bill 711, The NC Compassionate Care Act.
Every journey begins with a momentous first step or, in this case the first swirls of a cold front that causes concern amongst meteorologists. Keep an eye on that front and before 2021 is over that calm felt in the air after a hurricane passes, familiar to any coastal residents in NC, could be made even calmer with the help of some legal medicinal cannabis for the many people being forced to suffer in the dark. 2021 may seem ambitious, but so was my desire to walk again in my doctor’s eyes.
Not only did I walk again, but I continued a passion I had for stage combat and even performed as Blackbeard in an internationally known pirate sword fighting comedy show in my hometown, twice. I was featured in a Tarheel Travelers episode on WRAL as Blackbeard in the Ocracoke Pirate Jamboree festival and it’s still on their website at www.wral.com if any of you readers need a visual.
Will medicinal legalization happen in 2021 for NC? Nothing says it can’t but a more realistic date is 2023. Regardless of when it does happen, the continued work of citizen advocates will be crucial to the future of cannabis in NC.