Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sufferer and veteran medical marijuana campaigner Cheryl Miller passed away in June, but her husband, friends, and fellow medical marijuana patients are honoring her memory in a way she would have liked. On Monday and Tuesday in Washington, DC, the Cheryl Miller Memorial Project will bring together dozens of patients and supporters from around the country, not only to remember Cheryl, but also to agitate, demonstrate, and lobby Congress and the national Multiple Sclerosis Foundation to move forward on medical marijuana.
Miller and her husband Jim became prominent and highly-visible figures in the medical marijuana movement in recent years. Bed-ridden, Cheryl would have Jim push her bed along highways and into state buildings and congressional offices, as they sought to make politicians confront the human results of their prohibitionist stances on medical marijuana. Former US Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), one of the most ardent of the congressional drug warriors, once ridiculed Cheryl as "a prop" when she and Jim showed up to challenge him on his position.
But the Millers made sure Barr paid for that remark. Cheryl was featured in television ads sponsored by the Libertarian Party during Barr's 2002 primary re-nomination attempt. "Why do you want to throw me in jail, Bob?" she asked. Barr lost the primary and is no longer a power in the Capitol.
"Bob Barr called her a prop, but he found she was no prop," said Gary Storck, a Wisconsin medical marijuana patient and member of Is My Medicine Legal Yet (http://www.immly.org), a pro-medical marijuana group. "Cheryl was important because she and Jim found so many new and creative ways to go after the medical marijuana issue," he told DRCNet. "She set an example of courage and perseverance. She taught us all a lot."
They won't be the only ones. According to Jim Miller, some 20 or so medical marijuana patients, many of them victims of MS, will show up for the memorial, including Michael Krawitz (Virginia), Elvy Musikka (California), John Precup (Ohio), and Jeannelle Bluhm (Oregon). A caravan is coming from New York state, Miller told DRCNet.
The Millers visited Washington nine times to lobby Congress, Miller said, and Cheryl's memorial will be an opportunity for others to do the same. "I saw the power of one patient in those congressional offices," he said. "Bob Barr could not look Cheryl in the eye and say medical marijuana has not been proven to work. More people need to come to Washington," he continued, "and the Cheryl Miller Memorial Project is dedicated to ensuring that people could coalesce to make this trip. It isn't easy to travel when you're sick, or cheap to travel when you have to have a care provider."
The presence of patients on the Hill is crucial, Miller said, but the movement hasn't figured it out. "The reform organizations haven't gotten it done, Miller argued. "We need to make these congressmen look these patients in the eyes. It's very powerful. It opens doors. We are doing this on less money than it takes to buy one of those full-page New York Times ads and much less money than it takes to hold one of those conferences in fancy hotels. We could use more money from the reform community. The community needs to realize this isn't the Make a Wish Foundation, this is about getting change accomplished."
The memorial project is targeting Congress, the Supreme Court and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society this time around, Miller said. "We see medical marijuana bills like the Barney Frank bill get introduced each session, but nothing happens, and they are wiped off the table at the end of each session. We are going to give the patients a chance to try to make Congress move on this, because, to be frank, it's not getting done without them," he explained. "We know that a majority voted against us on the DEA funding in California, and we know that we might not win, but if the representatives don't like the bill, they should just vote it down, not keep it from ever getting a hearing or a vote. That is disrespectful, especially to people like Cheryl, who suffered because of this failure to act."
The project will seek to push for action on the Frank bill and enlist new sponsors during visits to congressional offices on Tuesday, Storck said. "First there will be a joint appearance at the office of a particularly bad congressman," he explained, "then the patients will go to lobby various representatives."
The memorial's second target is the National MS Society, a group that has been especially recalcitrant in recognizing the benefits of medical marijuana despite a decade-long struggle by the Millers to educate the society's national office. The MS Information Sourcebook, produced by the National MS Society lays out the official line: "It is the opinion of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Medical Advisory Board that marijuana is not recommended as a treatment for MS. Long-term use of marijuana may be associated with significant serious side effects. In addition, other well-tested, FDA-approved drugs are available, such as baclofen and tizanidine, to reduce spasticity in MS."
"The National MS Society has effectively stalled research on medical marijuana for MS for about 15 years," said Miller. "They're the prime research organization for MS research in all the world, and they say they can't condone medical marijuana because it hasn't been researched. But the British MS Society has done research, and the result is that MS patients there will soon be getting a sublingual cannabis spray."
That spray is being produced by GW Pharmaceuticals. GW has a different take on cannabis for MS than the National MS Society: "Collectively, these studies indicate that cannabis may substantially control the symptoms of MS, including muscle spasms, ataxia, and bladder dysfunction, and may also play a role in halting the progression of the disease," the company wrote after reviewing the literature on MS and medical marijuana.
"Patients will take the opportunity to visit the Washington branch of the National MS Society," said Miller. "They know we're coming, it's not adversarial, but this needs to be done to get through to the national office. Cheryl and I corresponded with them for years and we protested at MS fundraising walks, but couldn't sway them. Maybe if a lot of patients show up, they will have to listen. We want them to acknowledge the medical utility of marijuana, and we want them to do a national survey of MS patients to see how medical marijuana is working for them. At the least, they need to put a medical marijuana pro and con section on their web site."
And the Supreme Court? "We are setting up a memorial table at the Supreme Court because of its Oakland Cannabis Buyer's Club ruling," explained Miller. "Clarence Thomas wrote that opinion, and he and the majority deferred on the issue of efficacy. He wrote that the court didn't have to deal with that because in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act Congress voted that marijuana had no medical value. As Cheryl pointed out, that was before AIDS. We will be in front of the Supreme Court because we don't think the court should value a 30-year-old political decision over current science and medicine."
The Cheryl Miller Memorial Project will also see candlelight villages in towns and cities across the country for activists and patients who could not make the trip. Candles will flame in Cheryl's memory from San Antonio to Madison, Sacramento to New York state. For those who wish to attend the Monday and Tuesday events, including a Tuesday morning press conference on Capitol Hill, or who wish to contribute to help make the memorial a recurring lobbying event, visit the Cheryl Miller Memorial Project web page at http://www.cheryldcmemorial.org online.