"I would use cannabis before any pharmaceutical," Kathy Rippentrop said. "I mean, I watched it. It was just- it was good."
The voices backing medicinal marijuana use in Minnesota are growing louder today. The bill has taken yet another step in the Senate and seems to be gaining momentum. Public Policy Polling says 65% of Minnesotans approve of legalizing medical marijuana, but the governor has said he won't sign it.
The Cannabis Question continues as Valley News Team's Hope Hanselman introduces us to the patients who are looking for relief and have, at one time, had to break the law to get it.
"The three of us were best friends, we did stuff all the time together," Kathy said holding pictures of her mother and sister. "It will be six years in May."
The bond between a mother and her daughters may be stronger than one of us, because long after Kathy lost her mother, Jane, to colon cancer she is still fighting for her.
"We all look back on that, and I am so thankful to God that we had that because when somebody you love that is very close to you is terminal it is very depressing. Very depressing," Kathy, the medical marijuana advocate, said.
Kathy says pot saved her mother in the last years of her life, "because she wasn't suffering. She would have been suffering without it. We weren't going to let that happen whether it was against the law or not."
At first, doctors had given Jane one year to live and a heavy chemotherapy regimen. Kathy explains the treatment made her mother extremely sick. Her family tried doctors and techniques all over the country, including Marinol, one of the few FDA-approved drugs containing components of cannabis. Her mother didn't find relief with it, however. The excessive vomiting caused by her chemo wouldn't keep the drug down.
Their last resort came from an unlikely source.
"So, dad got this wild idea that he was going to grow marijuana," she said. "I was shocked a the beginning."
But, it didn't take long to change either of their minds. Two and a half minutes, in fact. The amount of time inhaled cannabis takes for the active ingredients to reach the blood stream.
"Once she felt how good she felt, we didn't have to fight her on it."
Jane lived four years instead of one, traveled to countries around the world and left Kathy with a much happier image of her mother.
"To see mom laugh and have a good time, it would make us laugh and it would just make the whole experience not as bad," she said.
Kathy's story has been powerful for lawmakers, but perhaps not strong enough. They say an overwhelming number of medical marijuana patients aren't treating life-threatening illnesses. They're looking for relief from chronic pain. The typical patient is a man in his mid-30s, with a history of substance abuse... a person very much like Brandon Muhs.
"People assume that I'm a meth user because of my high anxiety levels; and I care not what people think about me," Brandon, who is clean from drugs including marijuana today. But, he says he's still suffering from stereotypes and severe pain.
"A good day for me would probably put most people down," he said.
Now, he says he doesn't want his past to influence his healthcare.
"I was paralyzed due to an illness of Meningitis Encephalitis in 2001. The lingering effects from that are severe nerve damage and chronic pain. Since I woke up, I was paralyzed from the mid-chest down," Brandon said.
Learning to walk again was a major milestone for Brandon. But, he didn't stop there. He wants relief for others like him.
"Overall, I get more sick from any kind of medication, any kind of pharmaceutical pills that I take has more of a detrimental effect to my body that's not worth it. I would rather suffer- which I do."
If Minnesota approves medicinal cannabis, Brandon would be approved for access. So would anyone else suffering from severe pain, multiple sclerosis, ALS, epilepsy, glaucoma, hepatitis-C and cancer.
"This just took the place of everything, as far as being nauseous and sick, as far as feeling better," Kathy said. "most of the drugs they give you would push you down, she wanted to live every minute of the life she had left."
Kathy's mom, Jane, is an example of a patient willing to break the law for relief. Brandon is an example of one willing to suffer so others won't have to. The two of them are a slice of a diverse population of Minnesotans seeking relief through marijuana.
"I could go somewhere where it's legal, but that doesn't do any good for the people who are here and need it," Brandon said.
Opponents of the bill are concerned legalizing medicinal use will be one step towards legalizing recreational use. They're also concerned over cannabis getting into the hands of kids and teens. The Senate bill has tried to reach a compromise by putting up some obstacles towards opening a dispensary, which would be called 'alternative treatment centers'. The application fee is $15,000 to open shop. If the state doesn't approve the applicant, the state keeps $1,000. The centers must be at least 1,000 yards from a school and may only be present in a city with a population of at least 20,000 people. Counties of 300,000 people or fewer may only contain one center. Anyone under 21 may not qualify for a medical marijuana card, work in an alternative treatment center or be inside one.