The InnerView with Stormy Ray
The following interview, conducted on April 20, 2005, at the offices of the Stormy Ray Cardholders Foundation (SRCF), is a conversation between Stormy Ray, Jerry Wade and Peter Moore, editor of Alternatives Magazine.
Stormy Ray, a diminutive woman in a wheelchair, has been active in the movement to legalize marijuana for the purposes of medical treatment for over a decade in Oregon. She was a Co-Chief Petitioner for Measure 67 that became the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA) in 1998. SRCF is a non-profit Oregon medical marijuana information and support organization dedicated to helping patients utilize this law. Stormy currently serves on the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) Advisory Committee. She has served on the Oregon State Rehabilitation Advisory Council for two Governors, and the Federal Disabilities Determination Advisory Board for four years. As president of Malheur Butte Productions, a non-profit disabilities awareness organization, Stormy worked to help improve access, inclusion, and awareness for Oregonians with disabilities. She is currently the president of the Stormy Ray Cardholders’ Foundation (SRCF).
Jerry Wade is the Secretary and Director of Public Relations for the SRCF and has been a registered OMMP cardholder for over five years. Jerry has drafted legislative proposals that SRCF has submitted over the last three legislative sessions.
When I first heard about the Oregon Medical Marijuana Initiative, the name Stormy Ray seemed synonymous with it. How did you get involved?
STORMY: I had multiple sclerosis. The doctors had given up on my continuance, and had started giving my family counseling so they wouldn’t have such a hard time when I passed away. Well, a friend of mine decided to do a civil disobedient act, and he gave me a puff of cannabis. In that first moment I realized that I could go on living.
Why did he, or you, consider it civil disobedience?
STORMY: At that time we didn’t have an Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA) law. It was way back in ’91. My husband tried to grow a plant for me but was arrested and I could not believe our society could do such a thing to a good man. At the time I was sitting on the Governor’s State Rehabilitation Advisory Council and had been there for several years; we began the Medical Marijuana, um, I wouldn’t say movement, but the gathering of people out here in Oregon to work together.
Did the person who gave you this civil disobedient puff believe it was medicinal? Or was he thinking, “This is recreational and it might make you feel better?”
STORMY: No, he absolutely knew that it was going to help me and that it may be my last hope.
JERRY: She had just come back from the Emergency Room. She’d had a migraine for almost a month and couldn’t open her eyes or speak. At that point, there was nothing she could do. In fact, she did not know what he was giving her when he did it. He told her he was going to hold something up to her lips, she probably wouldn’t approve of it, but he told her to take a deep breath. What was your response? How did you know it was medicinal?
STORMY: By the time my friend put this joint up to my lips, I was experiencing pharmaceutical poisoning. The doctors had given up. They had been trying so hard to control the MS symptoms that the drugs they had me on were killing me. Things were shutting down and the pain was so severe it was just like I was on fire, but nothing could move. I could not move my eyelids. I wasn’t blind when my friend did this, I just didn’t have the ability to open my eyelid to look out.
Then, with one puff, everything was open again. It was instantaneous. I could actually feel my fingers and know that I was attached to this body. My eyes popped open and it was so quickly that I was able to get my messages through from my brain to my words, that I couldn’t believe it. So I yelled at him, and he jumped backwards thinking, you know, “I’m in for it now,” and instead I said, “What was that?!” He told me, and I said, “I don’t care, I want some more.” That was my hello to medical marijuana.
And you had no background in recreational use?
STORMY: No. I didn’t trust drugs. If you mentioned drugs I was out the door in the other direction. But once I understood the life saving health benefits for me, that changed my mind.
What made you decide to get involved with making it a movement larger than your own life . . . larger than your own ability to find another puff when you needed it?
STORMY: I have always worked for change within the system. It’s very important that if it’s something beneficial enough to change for one person, it needs to be mainstreamed, to become available for everybody. Then, when they arrested my husband and they wouldn’t let him out of jail, I was just appalled. I realized that what happened to him was happening to people all over the United States. I didn’t even begin to know how to fight to make it right for everybody. I think that’s when we decided that I would do whatever had to be done to prevent this from happening to another family.
Have you ever told that story to, say, legislators or police?
STORMY: Yes. They usually realize very early on that we’re not advocating for legalization of recreational drugs. We are here because we have a medicine that gives us a difference in the quality of our lives, and we have every right to have it treated as medicine, and not anything else.
When you tell your story, you must meet some skepticism. How do you deal with that?
STORMY: If someone is skeptical about whether or not medical marijuana has validity, it’s my fault, because I haven’t shared with them yet something that will help them with their understanding and awareness.
You’re saying that if people don’t get that you’re talking about a useful medicine—not an elaborate ruse to get high—it is your failure to communicate, not theirs to understand? That’s generous of you. How good are you at such communication?
STORMY: I’ve been at this for years. We have had many, many legislators who thought they knew where they stood—they were against marijuana—but scratched their head when I leave, because we take to them an insight and a perspective they may not have considered. Sometimes they come around to share our insight because they too have a family member in a health crisis. When you think about the legislators, and you think about medical marijuana, you have to remember that you’re looking at their entire support circle around them. That’s what helps us get the awareness to them.
JERRY: In society right now, there’s a very mixed message. There is skepticism about whether this really is medicine or not. Unfortunately the legalization lobby has taken up our cause. You’d think that’s a good thing, but in fact it feeds the perception that we, the medical marijuana people, are just trying to get around the law. And, when people advocate in the same breath for this as herbal medicine while talking about recreational use, it blurs the line.
To be clear, I very strongly support changing the marijuana laws in our country, but I believe that is a very different battle than for the medical use of marijuana, and when you blur that line it really confuses things. This is especially important for legislators, law enforcement, and others who are trying to understand what’s going on.
When did you become convinced that the best way, perhaps the only way, to push this through was to go directly to the voters?
STORMY: From 1991 to 1998, the legislature considered some version of the measure, but never would pass it. Then some funds became available making it possible to do the ballot initiative, and Oregonians were able to unite. There are so many entities in Oregon that have different concerns, issues and objectives concerning marijuana. We were able to get most of those entities to become tolerant of each other and to come together as a force—for a very short period of time. And we got the law passed. But almost immediately after that the unity was just shattered.
Why do you think the fragmentation happened between all the people and groups who came together to pass this legislation through the initiative process?
STORMY: Once it became law, everybody wanted it to be their way for their own interests according to their own understanding—and it couldn’t be. It was law. It wasn’t now to be utilized and manipulated and altered to fit whoever wanted to use it however. You wouldn’t believe some of the stories that were told after the law passed about what the law was. You could do this, you could do that, … well, there was no protection under any of those rumors from the law, and so, you really saw the fragmentation occurring as each person moved closer to their original intent.
JERRY: When the law passed in ’98, it was very, very misunderstood. In fact one of the first things that happened is that a patient went into a pizza parlor and lit up a joint. And when the manager complained he proclaimed that it was legal, it was his right to do it.
He had a card at the time?
STORMY: No, the card wasn’t even into play.
JERRY: They hadn’t even set up the registration … and of course when the police showed up, they didn’t even know the law. This really emphasized from the beginning that there was going to be a great need for information to go out to people.
Unfortunately, the OMMP is a registry system, not an advocate for the program. In fact, if you call up and ask them, “How do I talk to my doctor, where do I get medicine now that I’m in the program, how do I grow these plants,” you know, anything about the program, it’s “I’m sorry, we can’t answer your question on that issue.” They can answer the technical questions about the registration process, but that’s it. And so, patients were left out there, asking, “Who do we turn to?”
How does Oregon’s Medical Marijuana law work?
JERRY: If you read the law it says patients are allowed to engage in the use, growing and production of up to seven plants of marijuana, and, if the patient needs help, a caregiver can assist in this. It says the marijuana produced is for the exclusive benefit of the patient. That’s the way the law reads.
So, if you’re a caregiver and you grow an extremely prolific garden one year, and you have more than your patient needs . . .
JERRY: That almost always happens . . .
. . . then, by law, what do you do with the excess?
JERRY: Excess can be given for no consideration to other patients. That’s the only legal thing you can do with it.
STORMY: Excess can be given to other cardholders, it doesn’t have to be a patient, it can be a patient’s caregiver. Or to any other registered cardholder.
JERRY: That way, patients too sick to come and get it, they can send their caregiver.
Marijuana has a long shelf life. Is there a way to set up a bank to hold the excess?
JERRY: You’re pointing to one of the problems with our law right now, the numbers don’t match reality. When you harvest a marijuana plant grown indoors, you end up with about three to five ounces of marijuana. Outdoors, the sky is the limit. I’ve heard of seven or eight pounds off a plant. But, indoors, it’s the height of the ceiling, the amount of light you have, all the restraints of indoor growing, about three to five ounces of marijuana. The law says we are allowed to keep one ounce per mature plant. So, when a patient harvests, instantly they’ve got more than the law says they’re allowed to have. And that’s one of the things we’re trying to get changed this legislative session. Now, a lot of the groups are saying that they need to increase the plant number and we don’t really think that’s necessary, what the plants can grow can produce what the patients need. Some police and politicians complain that advocates for medical marijuana have simply created a Trojan horse for growing and harvesting a vast amount of semi-legal marijuana. Much of this doesn’t go to a patient, they say, but instead is bought and sold and used recreationally. What do you think?
STORMY: The first thing that law enforcement needs to understand is we are not legalization. We are medical marijuana patients who need this as an answer. We’re not anti-establishment— “We’re right and you’re wrong.” We’re looking for this valuable medicine to be mainstreamed in with the rest of our pharmaceutical drugs that we depend on for our medical treatment. That includes all of the standardization, all of the research, all of the information and education that could be made available about this wonderful herb. Such information and education would tear down the other walls of ignorance and misunderstanding.
But in practical terms, you’ve got police and DA’s everywhere trying to deal with situations …
STORMY: And we’re dealing with changing peoples’ attitudes. When I have to drive across the state to speak with a sheriff, to tell him that he and his officers did something wrong, and explain to him how his actions in not following through and calling OMMP first, but taking a helicopter out there and flying over a patient’s house, has traumatized that patient—that they have no right to put that person under such stress, because that patient has an Oregon Medical Marijuana Card … it’s my responsibility to go out there and explain to law enforcement the patient’s perspective of what they’re really doing to them. And the officers get it when it’s explained, and become some of our best allies in protecting patients’ rights to have access to this medicine.
JERRY: Most of the times, if the police end up at somebody’s house and they go in and there’s too many plants, the law officer will let the patient choose which plants he wants to keep, destroy the rest, and leave the patient with what he’s allowed to have. That is, unless there’s just a flagrant case, if they go in and this guy has got fifty plants growing, producing mass quantities, the officers know that this is not being done for this patient’s individual use. Most police officers will say there has been very little abuse with this program.
Why do you think that the powers that be are so invested in keeping marijuana as a Schedule One controlled substance?
STORMY: Some people like to control what other people do, and there’s a lack of knowledge on the part of the general public. But as medical marijuana proceeds further, that lack of knowledge is being erased and replaced, and that is starting to force attitudinal changes at higher levels. Even though we may not have the law changed, the movement of attitudes being changed is happening.
JERRY: Society’s attitude about drugs is schizophrenic. It’s, “Take a pill, feel better, but we’re against drugs.” Coffee is a drug, alcohol is a drug, cigarettes are a drug. Chocolate is even a kind of drug. These things affect the way you feel and perform. Society needs to lose this ‘war on drugs’ mentality and start concentrating on the actual risks and benefits of all these substances. It is pathetic to have marijuana listed as a more dangerous drug than methamphetamine. Currently, there’s no legitimate reason underpinning the laws that classify some substances as legal and others as illegal.
If I may ask you a personal question, have you ever used marijuana recreationally? Is there something about that medicinal/recreational line that society has a valid reason to protect through law enforcement?
STORMY: I think that your question has many facets. Yes, I have used it recreationally, before the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act began. As far as the legalization, I would draw the line between it and medical marijuana. From my perspective here in this little office, medical marijuana is as misunderstood by the people in the legalization movement, who have been aware of this plant for twenty years or more, as it is by law enforcement. We have a whole different way of handling our medicine. We don’t grow with pesticides. We don’t grow it fast. We don’t grow just one strain, we want at least three if not five different ones that affect different conditions that we will be experiencing with our affliction. So we have to learn to grow differently. We’re not always digesting it, so we don’t want harsh chemicals. We don’t want the first generation seed plants.
JERRY: Nevertheless, it’s ironic that medical marijuana will probably be what eventually ends up legalizing marijuana. When it comes to the point where everybody has a brother, sister, parent or child—somebody using marijuana—and the stigma and the misinformation is lifted, eventually it will be legalized.
I look at it this way. I kind of consider all marijuana use medical. If you’re eating broccoli, you may be eating it because you enjoy it, but it’s still good for you. In modern society, what do they estimate, about 60 to 70 percent of all illnesses today are stress related? And, to be able to separate yourself from the day’s problems and relax at the end of the day . . . it may make you feel good—“recreational”—but that too can be medicinal. There is a need for that separation. Marijuana does that.
You appear to be making the case for those on the other side of the issue who say, “See! It’s not only for symptoms, it’s for self-medication against the day’s stresses. This is a slippery slope and we need to stop them.”
JERRY: They may feel that way but that doesn’t change the truth. I really look forward to the day when our society is enlightened to the point that it will allow grown people to legally choose this medicine for themselves. Until then, under current Oregon law, there is a list of seven conditions that allow for use, and, when you analyze them, most disabled people will be able to fall into one or more of those categories. Unfortunately, people with psychiatric conditions are prevented from utilizing this medicine for conditions such as stress or post-traumatic stress disorder. But I am certain that will be addressed in the future, and there is a mechanism within our law that would allow for new conditions to be added.
How would you characterize the demographics on this issue?
STORMY: When we were working on measure 67, I would go out to different civic organizations and do presentations about what it meant. The one group that really got their ire up about me not being able to have this medicine was the Red Cross Ladies. Now, these ladies range from their mid-20’s up to about 97, OK? They are heavy-duty volunteers. Those little gals were ready to carry picket signs onto the capital mall when they heard that I couldn’t get a regular supply of the medicine that meant so much to me. We also saw the grandmas and the grandpas come out in force and say, “Enough is enough. You’re not putting any more patients in jail. You’re not going to take and destroy this family unit. You’ve already got my son, my cousin, my brother in the system. NO MORE!” And it was that “NO MORE!” added to it that carried us through. Failure was not an option.
JERRY: When you ask, “Who are the disabled in our community?,” the majority are probably forty, fifty-plus. Those are people who are most consistently active on this issue. You really don’t think about pain medication until you’re in pain or you know someone who is. It is significant that AARP just did a survey, and it was 72 to 75 percent of their membership thought that marijuana should be available for medical purposes.
STORMY: The night of the election I was at the governor’s watching the vote count. A reporter came to me and he says, “You’re behind. Are you concerned?” “Not a bit,” I said. “We don’t have the absentee ballots in yet, and when they come we will go ahead.” And that’s exactly what happened. When the absentee ballots came in, we took the lead and never looked back. It was the patients themselves that made this happen.
Give me an example of one thing that helps you find balance in this work?
STORMY: Bob Marley’s music would be one.
Interesting. His music is considered to be informed by the use of marijuana. For him it was spiritual, artistic, liberating and a party. What’s your relationship with his music?
STORMY: It has helped me form a foundation of kindness, because that is what the herb really represents. His music has a rhythm that touches the inner person. You almost find yourself kind of wanting to sway when you listen to the notes. It’s not so much the words, it’s the rhythm, the beat, the kindness of the tonality of the composition. And it also works really well when I’m in my standing frame and I need to move, because it encourages movement.
Do you have a favorite song?
STORMY: “Ganja Man.”
Finally, would you comment on your work from the point of view of social activism and spiritual service?
STORMY: Social and spiritual work are separate commitments, and each one surfaces at the moment that it’s needed . . . .As for me, I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. And, for God, I’m going to do that.