Dying for a smoke 

Cannabis hunger striker faces a grim choice

Robin Prosser is a 45-year-old Missoula woman who has been on a hunger strike since April 20 protesting her inability to secure legal, medicinal marijuana in Montana to treat her diagnosed immunosuppressive disorder. The Independent sat down with Prosser earlier this week to discuss the circumstances that would lead a disabled, middle-aged mother to entertain thoughts of making the ultimate sacrifice.

Missoula Independent: How long have you been medicating yourself with marijuana?

Robin Prosser: Well, I’ve had 17 years of attempting to treat this through conventional methods. I’ve had biopsies, steroid treatments, cortisone injections, and every kind of pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, narcotic, anti-depressants, and anti-seizure drugs you can name. I’ve been using marijuana as medicine for the last seven years, but I’ve only been open about it for the last four. I told my GP, “Nothing’s working, and I have to tell you that I’m finding that cannabis is very effective, and helps my pain and helps all these symptoms without all these horrible side effects.” And he just got irate, and up and walked out on me.

MI: What precipitated your decision to go public with a hunger strike?

RP: The first real bell that went off was when my daughter got this brain injury almost five years ago. I found out four months afterwards that if I had administered cannabis to her—and you know, I would have run all the way, broken into the ER, given her a joint and told her to light up right there—it’s been proven to prevent brain cell deaths. If I had been able to administer cannabis within six hours of that injury, I might have been able to save some of the intellect and brain function that she lost. It’s just horrible to think that my doctor may have known it at the time, but because of the laws it’s very strict what he can and cannot say to me. Here’s another generation of my family who didn’t need to suffer what she suffered, and might have been helped.

So that, and then the terrorism ads in response to the 9/11 thing, the ones that say that I’m supporting terrorism, and the whole issue of personal freedoms. I’m not a terrorist, I’m not a traitor, but I feel as if I’m being forced to leave my country. With my kid and my life here, that’s just not fair. Because this is not my choice. It’s not a lifestyle choice, it’s a critical medical decision. And they can’t have the Supreme Court, none of whom are doctors, say that this has no medical benefit. It’s a pure lie. This drug has tremendous medical benefits.

MI: How do you medicate yourself?

RP: If I’m lucky enough to have some for baking, I make baked goods to establish a base level. And then I smoke, depending on quality and potency, about three grams per day. I find I can get by on half that with hydroponically grown stuff.

MI: How far are you willing to take this?

RP: Well, I told my doctor last week that if my heart stops, that he had better get it started again. I’m not placing a DNR [Do Not Resuscitate order]. I couldn’t do that to my child, she’d totally freak. But I don’t think I would appreciate a heart attack, because it’s really going to hurt.

MI: What’s the difference in your mind between starving to death and dying of a heart attack?

RP: I have to make them resuscitate me. That’s continuing on, that’s saying, “I’m not going to give up even if my heart stops. Bring me back so I can do some more.” Which would be more effective, I think, than dying for this because other people have already died.

MI: Let’s say it gets to the point where you need medical attention and nutrition or you will die. What happens then?

RP: Somehow inside I have a belief that it won’t come to that, that if it gets that serious there will be enough public outrage that somebody will save me. I just feel that it will not come to that. I don’t think I could have done this if I thought people were going to let me die. But it takes making it known.

MI: Who do you hope will save you?

RP: George Bush, because the policy change must happen on a federal level. This state-by-state crap, when they’re going to close them [medicinal cannabis clubs] down anyway…it does me no good to move to California or Oregon. Or the governor, even. That would be really helpful, to get some measure of protection for myself and my daughter. I’m a good citizen of Montana and I deserve protection. Because this is torture. It’s a human rights violation, as far as I’m concerned. I either break the law or I live in horrible pain. But I don’t believe a lot of people actually see a clear medical case, and that’s why I thought I was a good candidate for this. I’m not what they expect.

MI: Is it your intention to evoke pity with the strike?

RP: Well, sometimes you find yourself in these positions in life and you go, “Why me? Why does this have to be the only medicine that works?” But then again, if you use it for a purpose, that’s what counts.

MI: If it comes down to a conscious choice between eating and dying, do you believe that you will cross the line and eat?

RP: Nope. I want to already. I mean, I’m hungry. But that’s the one thing I’m sure of. I’m determined. And when I set my mind to something, I don’t back off. There’s a difference between getting what you want and getting what you need. And I need this.

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