[Note: This post orginially appeared as an article in The Wilson Times.]
By Corey Friedman
John Cameron hasn’t been the same since sheriff’s deputies took his marijuana away.
“I’ve lost seven pounds in seven days,” the 71-year-old Cameron said. “I have leg cramps, and my vision is starting to deteriorate a little bit.”
Cameron, a pancreatic cancer survivor, said he uses marijuana for its medical benefits, chiefly pain management and increased appetite. He believes an acquaintance tipped off the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office over a golf grudge.
Deputies seized 12.6 ounces of marijuana and 17 guns in a Dec. 4 search of Cameron’s house near Sims. They searched his home after stopping Cameron’s car and finding marijuana and a concealed handgun.
Cameron said he’s been reading the Bible from cover-to-cover each year for 23 years. He’s been smoking marijuana for 50 years.
“I knew that the Lord didn’t mind me smoking pot,” Cameron said. “He put it right there in Genesis, in the first chapter.”
Cameron said the cannabis plant is part of God’s creation. In Genesis 1:29, God gives mankind “every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it.”
“I don’t have to justify any of my actions to mankind,” Cameron said. “I only justify myself to my Lord in heaven.”
Marijuana legalization for medicinal and recreational use remains a hotly debated topic. Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that he supports legalization.
“I’m in favor of it. I think it’s OK,” Carter said during a CNN panel discussion.
EASING CANCER PAIN
Cameron said he’s a six-year survivor of pancreatic cancer. Doctors diagnosed the ailment in June 2006, when he was 65.
“The Lord has truly blessed me,” Cameron said. “When I had pancreatic cancer, I turned yellow as a school bus.”
Doctors found a softball-sized tumor in Cameron’s pancreas. He underwent surgery that removed his duodenum, gallbladder, small intestine, 12 lymph nodes and one-third of his pancreas.
“And to this day, I don’t know if I have a spleen or not,” Cameron added.
After his surgery, Cameron developed diabetes, and his weight dropped to 150 pounds. He resumed smoking marijuana and said he was able to gain 35 pounds.
“The marijuana, contrary to all the politicians’ stupidity, it cuts down on pain,” Cameron said. “It helps regulate my blood sugar. I’m 71 years old, and I still don’t need glasses to watch TV or read.”
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes. Last month, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to allow the recreational use of marijuana.
While some state laws allow residents to legally possess and use marijuana, the drug still is forbidden under federal law. The U.S. Controlled Substances Act classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which is defined as a substance with no accepted medical use.
A 2009 report by the American Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health cites short-term controlled trials showing that smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and may relieve spasticiy and pain in multiple sclerosis patients.
The AMA council called for increased study of marijuana’s health benefits, but it stopped short of endorsing legalization.
“Our AMA urges the National Institutes of Health to implement administrative procedures to facilitate grant applications and the conduct of well-designed clinical research into the medical utility of marijuana,” the report states.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA HERE?
North Carolina lawmakers could consider a bill to allow medicinal marijuana use with a doctor’s recommendation. Sponsors introduced House Bill 577, the Medical Cannabis Act, in April 2011.
The bill died in committee last year, but state Rep. Joe Tolson said the General Assembly will likely consider medical marijuana.
“I’m sure it will come back up,” said Tolson, a Pinetops Democrat who represents a portion of Wilson and Edgecombe counties. “Somebody may introduce it because it has been passed in other states. There has been an effort to get it passed in North Carolina, but it just never goes anywhere.”
Tolson said he hasn’t decided whether he would support a medical marijuana bill.
“Right now, I don’t have a position on it one way or another,” he said. “Marijuana is something I’ve never messed with, never had a desire to. I’m certainly open-minded if we can get controls on it to be used that way. Maybe it ought to be looked at if it helps people medically.”
State Sen. E.S. “Buck” Newton, a Wilson Republican, doubts leaders in the General Assembly would bring medical marijuana up for a vote.
“My personal opinion is I just don’t think there’s any political will whatsoever to move a bill like that,” Newton said. “Whether it has merit or not, I don’t think there’s any political will.”
Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, is a member of the House Rules Committee, the body where HB 577 was referred. Farmer-Butterfield didn’t return phone messages in time for this story.
In North Carolina, possessing one-half ounce or less of marijuana is a Class 3 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum of 10 days’ jail time and a $200 fine, Being caught with more than a half-ounce but less than an ounce and a half is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries up to 45 days’ imprisonment.
Possession of between one and a half ounces and 10 pounds is a Class I felony. Those convicted face 3 to 8 months in prison, according to state sentencing laws.
NOT YOUR PARENTS’ POT
The marijuana cultivated and smoked today is roughly 300 percent more potent than the cannabis of the 1970s, according to Partnership for a Drug-Free North Carolina.
“It may not be what you’re thinking of as stereotypical ‘60s peace-love dope,” spokeswoman Robin Lindner said. “A counselor made the comparison that the ‘60s marijuana is a Ford Pinto and the marijuana of today is a GMC Yukon.”
Modern-day marijuana contains an average of 10 percent tetrahydrocannibinol, the plant’s main psychoactive compound, Lindner said. In the 1970s, THC levels ranged from about 1.5 percent to 3 percent.
No documented marijuana overdose deaths have been reported in medical literature, according to a 2002 Brown University study published in the journal Pharmacology & Therapeutics. But Lindner says people shouldn’t consider marijuana use to be harmless.
“Marijuana does have chemicals and carcinogens,” she said, adding that users also can get sick from smoking marijuana laced with other drugs.
Effects of smoking marijuana can include lowered inhibitions, short-term memory loss, slow reaction time and anxiety, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Partnership for a Drug-Free North Carolina takes no official position on marijuana’s potential for medical use, Lindner said, but the group is concerned that wider acceptance of the drug will lead to more teens abusing it.
“Because of all these questions and discussions about marijuana being OK, more and more and more teens especially are experimenting with the drug,” she said. “That creates confusion in the messaging for teenagers, and 90 percent of addictions start in the teenage years.”
Lindner believes marijuana is a gateway drug that can lead users to experimenting with heroin and cocaine and abusing prescription painkillers. A recent Yale University study suggests there may be some truth to that hypothesis.
Marijuana users were about two and a half times more likely than non-users to abuse prescription drugs, according to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The study showed that drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes increased the potential for prescription drug abuse in men by 25 percent.
ON THE LINKS
A retired insurance salesman and real estate broker with an active North Carolina real estate license, Cameron spends his free time on the links at Wilson’s Willow Springs Country Club.
Cameron said he’s won Legends and Super Senior championships at the club and is a team captain. He has a handicap of 3.
Most fellow golfers know about Cameron’s marijuana use — his club nickname is Smokey — and the snub-nosed .38-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun he keeps in his golf bag for personal protection, he said. Cameron thinks a rival golfer alerted sheriff’s deputies to the gun and marijuana in his car.
“I know who set me up, and I know why he set me up — because he can’t break 80 on his best day and he’s jealous of me,” Cameron said.
Cameron said the deputy who stopped his car on his way to the country club last week told him that someone called the sheriff’s office and said Cameron had marijuana and a concealed gun.
“He said, ‘We got a call that you were headed south on St. Rose Church Road and you had pot on you and a concealed weapon,’” Cameron recalled.
Cameron handed over a wooden “joint box” with a marijuana cigarette inside.
When deputies asked about the gun, Cameron quoted the Constitution — he keeps a copy in the driver’s side door of his car.
“It says I have the right to bear arms,” he said. “I rest on the Constitution of the United States. I was not violating the Constitution, which is the primary law of the land. Regulations are not supposed to deny you the rights of the Constitution.”
CAMERON: NO INTENT TO SELL
Wanda Samuel, Wilson County Sheriff’s Office chief of staff, said Cameron signed a form giving consent to a search of his home. Deputies seized 12.6 ounces of marijuana and 17 guns.
Cameron was charged with carrying a concealed gun, possession with intent to manufacture, sell or deliver marijuana and maintaining a place for a controlled substance.
He disputes the two drug charges because both imply he was trying to sell marijuana. Cameron said he kept the stash only for personal use.
“Everybody at Willow Springs who plays with me knows I have never sold a joint,” Cameron said. “I do not sell pot. I use it. I don’t deal in the local underground market. It’s for my own purposes to keep my health up.”
Having intent to manufacture, sell or deliver marijuana is one of the four elements in Cameron’s first marijuana charge. North Carolina courts have ruled that authorities can infer intent to sell if a defendant has a large quantity of drugs.
“Possession of certain kinds and amounts of drugs along with drug paraphernalia may be sufficient evidence to prove an intent to manufacture, sell or deliver,” states a UNC School of Government guidebook on the elements of North Carolina crimes.
Cameron said a friend from outside the area gives him marijuana for personal use. In the past, he’s received large quantities of the drug once per year, he said.
“It’s totally erroneous, because I’ve never sold a gram,” Cameron said. “Nobody can ever accuse me of selling anything, because I never have. It was only for my own usage.”
Cameron said his health has suffered since deputies took his marijuana. He’d continue to smoke it if he had access to it.
“I can’t get it, can I?” he said, throwing his hands up in frustration. “I would if I could, but I can’t.”
A judge assigned Cameron a court-appointed lawyer, and he’s scheduled to meet with the attorney today to plan his defense.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I put it in the hands of the Lord,” Cameron said. “He has always protected me. He has protected me for 71 years.”
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