Champion, who suffers from a progressive form of multiple sclerosis, hopes his experience with marijuana as medicine will help bring relief to other suffering veterans in Illinois. He’s told his story to Gov. Pat Quinn, who now faces a decision whether to sign a measure legalizing medical marijuana in the state.
The veteran, who met Quinn in 2011, says his illness started with blurred vision when he was in the military 25 years ago and ultimately left him a quadriplegic reliant on his wife for care. Pills he took to control pain, which causes violent tremors and leaves him at times unable to open his fists, killed his appetite and turned him “into a zombie,” he says. At the same time, the marijuana his wife adds to baked goods relaxed him.
“My nerves kinda shut off. They quit jumping, sputtering,” Champion said. “So far I’ve found no medicine that’s capable of doing that.”
Pleas from people such as Champion who have serious illnesses have been central to efforts to lobby for legalized medical marijuana in Illinois. As Quinn decides whether to sign the measure, those personal stories could make the difference.
Quinn has placed veterans’ issues at the top of his agenda since before he held the state’s highest office. That has included attending their funerals, creating a relief fund for families who lost active-duty soldiers and traveling to Germany each Christmas to visit wounded soldiers.
The Democratic governor has mentioned hearing compelling stories of sick patients, including a veteran, who have been aided by cannabis. But Quinn, facing the start of what could be a tough re-election campaign, has said only that he’s “open minded” to the proposal.
Some law enforcement officials are against the measure, which would allow seriously ill patients – the bill describes roughly 30 conditions – who have a doctor’s approval to access the drug.
Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, a Virginia-based nonprofit group, has organized in several states including Illinois, saying marijuana can help people with post-traumatic stress disorder find balance.
“Really the choices are few and basically suck,” said Michael Krawitz, the group’s executive director. “It’s a population that finds cannabis really, really useful.”
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