by George Alleyne
Medical marijuana use has found very strong advocates in Barbados’ disabled community.
They made it clear recently they wanted to use the now illegal drug, while asking, “[Are we] supposed to live out the rest of [our] days in pain?”
There were contending views on the multiple benefits of marijuana as a medicine, but the audience at a recent town hall meeting heard a plea for this plant from some unfamiliar voices.
Rose-Ann Foster-Vaughn and Bonita Phillips wheeled to the microphone to tell a CARICOM Commission on Marijuana of the quiet suffering of members of their community and of their belief that the medicinal aspects of the plant can bring them relief.
The Commission, led by University of the West Indies Professor Rose Marie Belle-Antoine, has a region-wide mandate to get opinions of citizens on how marijuana should be regarded in the eyes of the law, and in what form. It takes submissions by email, and live presentations.
The Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre was the venue for presentations from Barbadians on August 27.
Administration Project Officer of the Barbados Council for the Disabled, Foster-Vaughn related that though born with cerebral palsy she managed a relatively normal life of playing as a child and walking to church,” until 2008 I was diagnosed with Lupus. Now imagine that, Lupus on top of a disability”.
The affliction nine years ago brought on rheumatoid arthritis with its accompanying pain all day and night.
“I live on painkillers. I used to be on steroids, but after the steroids got me too fat I weaned myself off them and now I live strictly on painkillers,” she told the panel.
“So, you tell me at 49-years-old, am I supposed to live out the rest of my days in pain, I think not,” said Foster-Vaughn who indicated that she also suffers from poor circulation.
The well-known champion of causes for persons with various challenges, said “the same way I advocate for disabled, and the rights of the disabled, I have the right of advocating for medical marijuana”.
Her stance was echoed by Bonita Phillips who said, “I am now a strong advocate for medical marijuana . . . because I have multiple-sclerosis and have learnt that the medication I am taking, or has been offered to me, is causing more damage.”
Phillips stressed that her position does not stem from any romantic feeling for the plant which she describes as ‘God’s gift’.
“I have never smoked marijuana and would never want to smoke it. I don’t like the smell of it.”
She explained that marijuana was an alien item for much of her life, having been raised by Seventh Day Adventists parents in the ’60s.
“At that time, you couldn’t have an ashtray in the house, furthermore cigarettes. So, I didn’t know anything about marijuana, cigarettes, or smoking.
But in explaining her conversion to the medicinal qualities of the plant she said, “What I’ve been brainwashed in not realising is that pharmaceutical companies are getting us drugs and abdicating all responsibility for the damage that it is doing to our bodies.”
Speaking of what she has witnessed in Barbados’ disabled community she said, “A lot of us have died because we’re taking pharmaceutical drugs.”
Phillips showed some discomfort during her presentation, and explained, “I have not been very well. I should be taking medical marijuana . . . taking medication is not helping me and now I just came out of my sick bed to be here today to advocate very strongly for medical marijuana.
“I am going through for the first time a very bad patch where sometimes I could hardly manage my speech.”
Arguing that medical marijuana holds the solution to her distress and the suffering of many others, she said “yet we have such fear in using God’s gift to us which man has made illegal”.
The advocate admitted that she was a victim of the fear.
“The fear that because I am in a comfortable home somebody is going to say that I am a drug user. But . . . I am waiting to survive my illness with God’s gift.”
“We do need to get together and stop this nonsense where we are frightened to use God’s gift.”