Mrs. K lives in a fairly upscale neighborhood in the suburbs outside of Indy. She's a mom. She has a professional career. She was recently widowed.
She could also be considered a criminal in the state of Indiana.
Over the course of the past few years, Mrs. K has been complicit in regular purchases of marijuana, making some buys that might've been large enough to constitute a felony under Indiana law.
"Mrs. K" is a pseudonym. Some of the details of her story will remain intentionally vague. "This widow doesn't look good in orange," she says with a grin.
A while back, her husband, "Mr. K", was diagnosed with cancer, and an extremely rare form at that.
"One in a million," explains Mrs. K.
Facing aggressive chemotherapy and an invader that attacked his digestive tract, a cancer so exotic that little research had been done in the area of symptom relief, Mr. K's oncologist told his patient that if weed was legal in the state of Indiana, the doc would've prescribed medicinal marijuana to help Mr. K continue to eat as he fought the disease.
According to Mrs. K, "He told us, 'Don't tell me how, but if you can get it, try it and see if it works.' "
Mr. K was a professional, white-collar gent who enjoyed fine wine. He had a military background. He coached youth sports. His coaching style mirrored his parenting technique. Tough, but fair. Follow the rules.
After the second round of chemo, the Ks began buying pot for Mr. K. A friend of a friend of a friend helped them out after hearing what Mr. K was going through.
"It was very apparent to me as a caretaker that it had a calming effect," says Mrs. K. "Chemo can make you violently ill, and we saw none of that."
There are studies that back up Mrs. K's observations. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, a National Academy of Science publication by Janet E. Joy, Stanley J. Watson, Jr., and John A. Benson, Jr., concluded that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) could be helpful for reducing chemo-induced "emesis," the medical term for vomiting:
"It is possible that the harmful effects of smoking marijuana for a limited period of time might be outweighed by the antiemetic benefits of marijuana, at least for patients for whom standard antiemetic therapy is ineffective and who suffer from debilitating emesis."
There were kids in the house. Teenagers. Was Mrs. K worried?
"Yes! I was," says Mrs. K. "But Mr. K was very discreet."
Eventually though, the Ks let their kids — and only their kids — in on Dad's secret.
"He named each one of his pipes," laughs Mrs. K. "We had Cartman, we had Holmes, we had Tom ... they all had names."
Mrs. K was well aware of the risks. Possessing over 30 grams of pot — just over an ounce — is a felony in Indiana, which can bring a fine of $10,000 and three years in jail. The maximum sentence for the misdemeanor of holding less is still a whopping five grand and a year in lockup. Paraphernalia possession carries no jail time (it's an "infraction") but the fines still max out at the $10,000 level.
Indiana has some of the harshest pot laws in the nation. By comparison, one needs to be holding over eight ounces of weed to be considered a felon in Kentucky, and the maximum $250 fine is just 5 percent of the top end penalty in Indiana.
The maximum jail sentence for misdemeanor possession in Kentucky is only 45 days.
Despite the risk, Mrs. K wanted to make sure her husband could enjoy the basic — and dignified — human function of taking nutrition by mouth.
Two surgeries and all of the treatments ultimately failed to beat the cancer. Last fall, it became apparent that there was nothing left that could be done for Mr. K — except to make the man as comfortable as possible. Weed continued to be a help.
"Once he quit chemo, because of the type of cancer that Mr. K had — it obstructed his abdominal vital organs — [the marijuana] really helped calm his stomach," Mrs. K relates. "Up until the last week before he passed away, he would take a little hit. Not, y'know, a stoner hit, but enough to just put his body at ease."
Eventually, Mr. K's digestive system betrayed him, and nearly all of his nutritional needs could only be delivered with a bag and a needle. At the end of Mr. K's life, taking a little weed prior to the simple comfort of ingesting a sip of water by mouth was the only option. "It wouldn't immediately come back out," Mrs. K explains.
Whatever Mrs. K's feelings were on the subject of pot before her husband got sick, she's now in favor of complete legalization across the board. "I'm a big proponent," she says simply.
Dravet syndrome, CBD and the Merhson family
Miriah Merhson and her husband have lived in Crawfordsville all their lives. Their two-year-old son Jameson suffers from Dravet syndrome. (It's pronounced drah – VAY.) According to the Dravet Foundation website, "Dravet syndrome, also known as Severe Myoclonic Epilepsy of Infancy (SMEI), is a rare and catastrophic form of intractable epilepsy that begins in infancy."
Dravet's extremely resistant to a wide range of drugs. Kids with Dravet can suffer epileptic episodes of such length and frequency that every aspect of their development can be affected. The syndrome can result in progressive dementia.
At the age of three months, Jameson began to have "myoclonic jerks", a sudden lifting of the arms as if the child had received an electric shock. "We first blew that off as a normal reaction," says Mershon. "It's a reflex in newborns called the 'startle reflex', where they feel like they're falling, so they throw their arms out."
Other varieties of seizures soon began to appear. Jameson's hands would shake violently. At five months old, the Mershon's son had his first grand mal seizure.
Miriah relays this information from Jameson's hospital room. An ear infection had given her boy a fever, and elevated body temps can trigger seizures. "He had a seizure last night that lasted an hour," she says. "We weren't able to stop it, so we called the ambulance to take him to the hospital."
Jameson's physicians initially prescribed some incredibly powerful drugs to try and stave off the seizures.
"Jameson was taking phenobarbital," says Miriah. "It made him very zombie-like. He was very tired. He wasn't focused on anything."
Jameson is now on a cocktail of four different anti-seizure medications. "He takes Kepra, Topamax, Valproic acid and a new one called Onfi."
The new medications are somewhat better, but, "They do make him drowsy and off balance. They can inhibit his appetite, and Dravet kids can suffer an inability to absorb nutrients. A lot of children with Dravet syndrome are very thin. They have a hard time gaining weight, and the medications don't help that."
Miriah's aware that alternative treatments exist. She knows all about a strain of cannabis called "Charlotte's Web." It's a plant named after a Dravet syndrome sufferer in Colorado, a girl named Charlotte Figi.
Charlotte's Web is high in cannabidiol, or CBD, and low in THC. THC gives a user a range of psychoactive experiences, from euphoria to paranoia. CBD has been proven to help counteract the effects of THC. Too high? Too freaked out? Strains with greater CBD levels have a mellowing effect.
CBD is also the chemical in cannabis that's effective in the treatment of seizures. According to reporting by CNN, after Charlotte Figi began ingesting an oil extracted from the plant, her seizures dropped from 300 per week to two to three a month.
Additionally, the CBD oil has virtually no detectable side effects. Charlotte doesn't get stoned when she ingests the stuff.
Miriah wants the options that the Figis have.
"Any alternative treatment that would allow us to decrease or eliminate some of these pharmaceuticals that have these side effects would be amazing."
Miriah understands that there's a risk: there haven't been any lengthy clinical trials regarding these treatments. "I know there's been a lot of attention on 'We don't know what the long-term side affects are', but the response to that when you have a child who has such a catastrophic disorder as mine is 'What's the side effect of NOT trying something?'
Miriah pauses; takes a breath. "I have this amazingly perfect little boy. He's so strong. He deserves every opportunity that we can give him."
Had the Mershons ever discussed moving to, say, Colorado? Someplace where medicinal weed is legal?
"We have. But as of right now, we're just like every other family that's debated about that. We have relatives here. Our whole lives are here. My husband and I live in the exact same town where we grew up."
The Mershons both have jobs here in Indiana, good jobs. "If it became necessary that I quit my job and stay home with Jameson, then [a move] might be something that we look into a little further."