A Medical Marijuana Story: Cancer Survivor

OKLAHOMA (KSWO) - Medical Marijuana is on the ballot next year in Oklahoma. While the state has made it legal to use a type of cannabis oil to treat certain illnesses, this State Question could open up all methods of medical marijuana treatment.

The interim study for the state government to look into how legalized medical marijuana would affect multiple state agencies was canceled. It was planned for November 8.

State Representative John Paul Jordan cited the "recent shake-up" with the department of health as the reason for postponing the study.

Until the vote on the state question next year, a cancer survivor is sharing his story. He went from a medical marijuana opponent to supporter during his battle with cancer.

"If you would have told me that three and a half years ago that I would be sitting here having this conversation. I'd say you're crazy. There's no way," Ray Jennings said. It's the first thing he says when talking about his journey.

"I was an old farm boy from Bixby," Jennings said. "Got up every morning and fed the chickens and the hogs and the cows. Just do the right thing. Get up every day and go to work. Work hard, be fair and honest and do the right thing. And if the law tells you it's bad then believe it."

Jennings is fighting to get medical marijuana legalized in Oklahoma. He says the drug helped him in his fight against cancer.

"Unfortunately, in February 2014 I was diagnose with stage 4 Squamous Cell Carcinoma," Jennings said. "I had a tumor on the base of my tongue and mouth that was the size of a golf ball. That had went undetected for well over a year. Maybe two."

Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer in the U.S., according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Jennings went through chemo and radiation treatment, but he said he was losing the battle halfway through his therapy. The nausea that came with the chemo caused him to lose a dangerous amount of weight. His son was going to school in Colorado at the time, and encouraged him to try medical marijuana.

"My 3rd trip to the hospital when I was on a stretcher, and they [my family] gathered around me. I was thinking 'Is this my last trip?'" Jennings said. "So what do you got to lose? We're begging you please. Try it. So I did."

Talking about that moment brings Jennings to near tears.

"I'm sorry. It was a very tough time on me and my family."

When he was well enough to travel, Jennings traveled to Colorado to stay with his son and get a medical marijuana license. A doctor prescribed him cannabidiol. Cannabidiol, or CBD oil, is a low-THC hemp product, which means it is not psychoactive, but it still has significant medical benefits.

"I take a very, very small drop and put it on honey and rub it on my tongue where that tumor was," Jennings said. "I went from basically a death sentence to where I couldn't control my nausea. Almost stop throwing up. I stopped losing almost all the weight. And as everyday passed I could see wow there really is something to this."

CBD oil was illegal in Oklahoma at the time Jennings was going through cancer treatment.
Oklahoma law has changed, and now CBD oil is available to children and adults who suffer from severe epilepsy disorders, spasms, intractable nausea and vomiting, and wasting syndrome.

The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics issued a statement of support for the access to CBD oil.

But says, "However, our agency does not support smoking marijuana based on the expert medical testimony and extensive research of the increased health risks associated with smoking pot."

The Oklahoma State Medical Association also supports CBD oil, but in a statement said:

"We support reclassifying marijuana out of Schedule I to allow for greater research to be done. But in the absence of such research, they cannot support full legalization of medical marijuana."

Coming up next year, Oklahomans will vote on State Question 788. If passed, it will take medical marijuana further. Opening the flood gates for all different ways the plant can be used as medicine not just CBD oil.

The proposed law will detail how patients get a medical marijuana license, how growers can farm it, how manufactures make it into medicine, and how dispensaries will set up and sell it.

Also, Oklahoma doctors will have a say in who gets that prescription. There is no list of qualifying medical conditions, which other states with medical marijuana programs have.

Andrew Freedman, the former Marijuana Coordinator for the State of Colorado who oversaw that state's marijuana program, says it's too early to see medical marijuana's results.

"Public Health takes a decade to shift," Freedman said. "So if you've wondering if there is a change in how many people use marijuana it's going to take a long time to determine what's going on."

Jennings talks to families who can't wait decades for a change in the law. Families who have loved ones in the same situation he was in three years ago, but they can't move to a state where medical marijuana is legal.

"And if you've never walk that path, it's a rough road," Jennings said.

Jennings went through 6 months of chemo and radiation, but was taking medical marijuana to treat his symptoms for half that time.

In August 2014, he was cancer-free.

"I don't know why God spared me. But he did. And I do believe it's because of the plant," Jennings said.

Jennings ends his story with words he never thought he'd say:

"This is not about getting high. This is about saving lives and trying to survive."

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