With his daily use of marijuana, says Eric Crawford, he can control his glaucoma and the painful spasms that make his 46-year-old body “flop like a fish out of water.”
Crawford has been bound to a wheelchair since his spinal cord snapped when a cow fell on the roof of the car he was riding in as a front-seat passenger on April 14, 1994.
He was with three buddies coming back home from “chasing women” at Morehead State University. A black Holstein in the middle of the road at night on KY 11 between Maysville and Lewisburg hit their car, went up in the air and landed on the car’s roof above Crawford. He was the only passenger hurt.
Crawford today has a loving wife, Michelle Crawford, who never leaves his side for more than six hours. They have been married since 1996. They met when he was a patient for rehabilitation at Cardinal Hill in Lexington, introduced to each other by her late sister who worked there.
Michelle Crawford said she realized they never could have children, “but I love him, always have, and married him.”
They share a modest, attractive house just down the lane from the house of his mother, Mary Crawford, in rural Mason County. It has a spectacular back-door view of hills and valleys. He misses his dad, Edward Crawford, who died in September and worked for Columbia Gas.
Eric Crawford draws $508 monthly disability checks. He is hesitant to talk about how much he pays for the marijuana he uses or where he gets it. He knows it is against the law but says he is glad he lives in a county that was one of the first to approve a resolution urging the legislature to approve marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Marijuana possession and sale are illegal in Kentucky. It’s a felony in Kentucky if you possess more than five plants or sell eight ounces or more.
Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have passed laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form. Ten states and the District of Columbia allow marijuana for recreational use, but Crawford says he is only interested in legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.
In recent years, the Crawfords have been regulars at state legislative hearings in Frankfort on medical marijuana. They work with Kentuckians for Medicinal Marijuana, a non-profit group.
They plan to be back during the 2019 General Assembly that begins Jan. 8 to plead their case.
“A lot of our friends around here go to Florida for vacation,” said Michelle Crawford. “We take our vacations in Frankfort.”
The issue is gaining momentum in the Kentucky legislature but still has a way to go. It got a committee hearing in 2018 as a bill sponsored by Rep. John Sims, D-Flemingsburg.
“Rep. Sims has been very helpful,” said Eric Crawford. “He doesn’t use marijuana but he has learned the value of allowing it for very sick people under a licensed doctor’s recommendation.”
Legislation for the 2019 law-making session will be pushed by two Republican House members — Jason Nemes of Louisville and Diane St. Onge of Lakeside Park in Northern Kentucky — as well as Sims.
Nemes, an attorney, said they will introduce their legislation during the first week of the 2019 session, which is scheduled to conclude March 29. He said the bill will allow marijuana use that is recommended by a practicing Kentucky physician. It will have about 12 co-sponsors.
“It has a chance of passing,” said Nemes. “It’s the right thing to do.
Nemes said he is encouraged that it appears Gov. Matt Bevin is supportive of the measure.
Bevin’s press office did not respond to a Herald-Leader question about the governor’s view of medical marijuana, but Crawford put on his Facebook page a video of Bevin’s talk at a Dec. 3 forum in Maysville in which he said he would be willing to sign a medical cannabis bill, “depending on the details,” but would not back recreational marijuana.
A major hurdle for the bill is Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester.
“What people want to know (is) is there therapeutic and medicinal value for medical marijuana? Stivers said to reporters in late November. “Where is the study? Where is the evidence of that? If people can give us those studies, give us that evidence, be it through the American Medical Association, John Hopkins, New England Journal of Medicine, somebody that has done something of ... controlled studies, I think the legislature is very much open to doing things. But somebody has to show us the data.”
Nemes, who was opposed to medical marijuana when he first ran for the state House in 2016 but has since changed his mind, said he will furnish legislators with “a plethora of studies outlining the benefits of medical marijuana.”
Stivers also suggested that Woodford Reserve bourbon might be a better choice than medical marijuana while speaking to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. If people need to “relax,” they ought to sit back with a glass of the libation, he said.
That didn’t go over well with Crawford. “If I drank that much bourbon to help me relax, I would not be able to get out of my chair and I would be pissing my pants all the time,” he said.
The American Medical Association has voiced concerns about medical marijuana, saying doctors would risk violating federal law if they provide patients with medical marijuana.
Concerning marijuana’s medicinal value, the AMA says: “Though many patients seek access to medicinal marijuana, some doctors are reluctant to recommend it due to a dearth of hard clinical data regarding its efficiency in treating certain conditions.”
It adds: “Aside from the lack of efficacy, some doctors are reluctant to recommend a drug whose form, contents, dosage and type cannot be specified, as they would be in a typical drug prescription. The amount of marijuana the patient can obtain is limited by state law.”
Crawford says he plans to use marijuana for the rest of his life, regardless of what politicians decide.
“What am I to do? Go blind? Leave my family and friends and live off the government?” he asked. “I’m not in to medical marijuana because I want to but because I have to. With it, I don’t have to take opioids and get hooked on them.
“Yeah, I smoked it a little before I got hurt and I’m not into the production and sale of it. I just need it to feel better.
“I want it to be available for other sick people to feel better, too, if a doctor believes it will help.
“Is that asking too much?”