A Unique Journey to Advocacy by Mark Montrose

Denying children, veterans, and other South Carolinians safe, legal access to medical cannabis is a social injustice.  My name is Mark Montrose, and I am a father of a child that has propelled me on a unique journey of becoming an advocate for individuals with disabilities. The journey has led me to pursue a career as a Licensed Master Social Worker. Social Workers are guided by the National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics, which states social workers “pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people.” I believe this includes helping seriously ill patients gain safe and legal access to medical cannabis.

My journey on becoming an advocate for medical cannabis began nearly ten years ago. The life my wife and I knew changed forever when, after two years of waiting to adopt, we finally brought home our daughter, Mary-Kate. It was not until her four-month checkup that several serious health issues were discovered. A trip to the pediatrician for routine immunizations turned into a trip to the emergency room at the MUSC Children’s Hospital and brain surgery. We were told our baby had suffered an inter-uterine stroke and had permanent neurological impairments such as hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy and epilepsy.  Along the way, we have endured multiple brain surgeries, VP shunt placements, multiple leg surgeries, and eye surgeries. As soon as we would figure out one issue, something new would show up. At the age of five, she began having seizures. We tried several different prescription medications and a modified ketogenic diet to control her seizures. Every treatment led to new hope that always ended with feelings of desperation. All of the prescription medications were temporarily effective and came with terrible side effects. The side effects either made her lethargic or left her with uncontrollable violent behavioral outburst.  We reached a point where we were going to try a fifth prescription anti-seizure medication, but we skeptically tried cannabidiol (CBD) oil to control her seizures instead. Amazingly, it worked! In fact, it worked so well, we have been able to take her off of the ketogenic diet and all prescription seizure medications. This was a life altering moment for us. A plant based therapy that we have been told our entire life is evil and bad turns out to be not so evil at all. Turns out we have been deceived about the medical properties of cannabis.

Mary-Kate is almost ten years old now and is entering puberty. The hormonal changes have triggered spikes in seizure activity. Research has revealed that in states where medical cannabis is legal children like Mary-Kate have seen greater control of seizures using whole plant therapy. Currently in South Carolina children like my daughter are being denied safe access to doctor recommended cannabis and this needs to be changed.

Denying patients access to a safe and effective treatment option is a social injustice that needs to be eliminated. Currently, 29 states, Washington, D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico allow safe access to medical cannabis. Why are patients in those states allowed access to medical cannabis, but not patients in South Carolina?

The second part of my journey to becoming an advocate for doctor-recommended medical cannabis has been shaped by my experience as a military retiree and disabled veteran. I am completing my final year as a graduate student at the University of South Carolina, Masters in Social Work program. South Carolina has one of the highest populations of veterans per capita in the United States. Both my father and father-in-law are Vietnam veterans who both have presumptive disabilities associated with exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service which can be effectively treated with medical cannabis. Currently, there are approximately 90,000 other disabled veterans in South Carolina that are being denied safe and legal access to cannabis that could help with serious medical conditions including chronic pain, Parkinson’s and  PTSD. Why then are veterans allowed legal and safe access to doctor-recommended cannabis in 29 other states, but not our veterans in South Carolina?  Veterans access to medical treatment option for service connected disabilities should be determined by their doctor not which state they live.

If the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act (S. 212/ H. 3521) becomes law, it will provide a compassionate alternative for my daughter, veterans, and other patients in South Carolina suffering from debilitating medical conditions.

Raising a child like Mary-Kate is challenging and full of uncertainties. A big uncertainty for us now is how many more seizures will she have to suffer before she can have safe and legal access to doctor recommended cannabis?

It is time for South Carolina to show compassion to its most vulnerable citizens. It is time to provide those same vulnerable citizens with safe access to doctor-recommended medical cannabis. If 29 other states can offer its citizens a compassionate solution to debilitating medical conditions surely South Carolina can do the same.

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