OBERLIN — John Pardee didn’t see many good options after his son was involved in a near-death car crash in January 2008.
Pardee’s son survived, but doctors said he would have to manage the pain from his injuries for the rest of his life.
Pardee said his son only had one option — to take opiates, like Oxycontin or Vicodin, for pain management. But with a high potential for abuse, Pardee wondered why there weren’t more options.
So Pardee, an environmental consultant, began doing some research and he found a medical alternative, albeit one that is illegal in Ohio.
“I found that cannabis has not killed anyone,” he said to a crowd at Oberlin College on Thursday.
Pardee, who is leading the medical cannabis reform movement in Ohio as president of the Ohio Rights Group, discussed what he called the numerous benefits of cannabis use and why it should be legalized for medical and industrial reasons.
He said in addition to medical benefits, hemp, which is the non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant, can be used for food, fuel and fiber. The group isn’t pushing for legalization for recreational use, Pardee said.
Ohio isn’t the first state to consider the legalization of medical marijuana. Twenty U.S. states have medical marijuana provisions, although the drug is still illegal under federal law.
Pardee said there has been support in Ohio for reform.
The Ohio Rights Group has sponsored the Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment that, if passed, would allow for the medical use of marijuana and the industrial use of hemp.
Proponents for the amendment say that legalizing cannabis for medical and industrial use would raise billions for the government if taxed and would decrease drug-related crimes.
The Ohio Rights Group has already garnered more than 30,000 signatures from registered Ohio voters, but it needs 385,000 valid signatures to get the amendment on the ballot in 2014.
That’s where the help of Cheryl Shuman, who has been called the “Martha Stewart of Marijuana,” comes in.
Pardee said Shuman was an obvious choice to join the medical marijuana campaign.
“She has the biggest megaphone in America today,” he said. “She’s reached literally millions of people. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate person.”
Shuman, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, said she used cannabis as an alternative medicine, which she credits with saving her life. Shuman is a legal medical marijuana user in California, but she faces legal repercussions when visiting her family in her Ohio hometown, where medical marijuana is still illegal.
Shuman said joining the campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio was an easy choice.
“For me, it’s a very personal thing. I’m a legal medical cannabis user. I’m a cancer survivor, and I use it so I can stay cancer free.”
Shuman was coined the “Martha Stewart of marijuana” due to her activism to legalize medical marijuana. The publicity generated from her personal battle led to her appointment as the executive director of the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club, but Shuman was well-known before her work in the medical marijuana movement.
The daughter of a poor tobacco farming family in Scioto County, Shuman created a coupon refunding system at the age of 17, which she credited with putting her through college. She appeared on “The Bob Braun Show” on WLWT-TV in Cincinnati to offer money-saving tips after newspaper articles on the refunding system were published.
Shuman later moved to California, where she became a personal optician to celebrities like Michael Jackson, Julia Roberts and Johnny Depp.
Shuman said she first learned about the medical uses of cannabis as an optician — marijuana has been linked to glaucoma treatment — but she never used the drug until a doctor recommended it to her after she was struck by a drunk driver, leaving her bedridden.
“I’d never done a drug in my life… but I took a puff of this joint that he rolled for me … and within two puffs … I felt better than I have ever felt before in my life,” she said.
Shuman said when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, she again turned to marijuana after other treatments and medicines turned her into “a vegetable.” She credits marijuana with curing her cancer and believes the drug has special healing powers.
“It is a medicine. It should be dispensed in our hospitals. It should be dispensed in our nursing homes,” she said.
Shuman and Pardee are not the only people who believe in legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.
Pardee quoted a 2004 AARP study that found 72 percent of senior citizens supported medical marijuana. A crowd of approximately 30 to 40 people at Oberlin College applauded Pardee when he asked if the drug should be legalized for medical purposes.
Shuman said she is working to negotiate a $250,000 pledge for the cause. The Ohio Rights Group also sponsored a dinner after Thursday’s speech to raise money for signature collections.
Pardee and Shuman, who said they are strictly volunteers, said they will push for the legislation until it is passed.
“I will not stop being an activist. I will not stop being in the media until I see medical marijuana legalization in Ohio and the rest of the country,” Shuman said.