Sue Thayer in her garden
Tristan Thayer, the eldest of Sue and Alan Thayer’s three children, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002. Nevertheless, given the circumstances, he continued to live a full and giving life until he died on May 29, 2005, at the age of 25, from the effects of that leukemia.
Blessedly, he died literally in the bosom of his family.
One of the reasons Tristan was able to live so fully while the foul disease continued to sap his strength and energy was the marijuana he learned to grow so beautifully and, it must be said, illegally. Planting seeds in spring and harvesting in fall, according to nature’s dictates, he was able to smoke the ‘weed’ to counteract the debilitating nausea caused by the disease, the five rounds of experimental chemotherapy, and the two stem cell transplants, one from himself and one from his younger brother, Max, with which it was treated.
His mother told me, “Cannabis not only made it possible for Tristan to eat enough to recover every time they killed his immune system, (but) it helped him assimilate his life in his time of dying.” Tristan told her, she said, “that each round of chemotherapy was like 'jumping through a ring of fire', and the pills they had to offer just made him 'sick and unable to function'.” And then she said, “Tristan had no time to waste.”
Brother Max thinks that the reason that Tristan was able to meet his death so beautifully and generously was due to "...the gentle relief that marijuana provided him. He could accept his life, find joy in it and see it for what it had taught him; cannabis was a conduit for that insight.” The plant is historically the choice of seekers, after all.
|Tristan, Lucy, and Max - 2004-2005|
Before he died, Tristan realized that Max’s symptoms could be alleviated by smoking marijuana, but Max was reluctant. “I was surprised,” he says now. “It seemed so strange, and so I didn’t really give it a chance.”
In 2005, Max almost failed out of school. He considered quitting. “I just didn’t feel up to it!” Tristan was gone, but Max decided to give the marijuana a chance. The difference was dramatic. He smoked as much as he needed – before the nausea could get to him in the morning and before meals – and he started having success.
In the fall he went back to school for his senior year. It was a splendid year. “I aced a lot of classes. I got involved in activities. I had a really good time. I just felt... better.”
In 2004, “An Act Relating to Marijuana Use by Persons With Severe Illness” was passed in Vermont that allowed one flowering plant to be grown by patients with cancer, AIDS, HIV, or multiple sclerosis. But kidney disease and Max’s symptoms were not included in it. In spring, Max’s mother Sue planted marijuana for him. Illegal? Well, yes, but what mother would quail before illegality when her child’s well-being was at stake; when she knew – had seen them up close and personal – that the effects of it could play a crucial role in maintaining her child’s life.
Sue is a Master Gardener. Her gardens up in the mountains east of Wallingford are legendary and regular attractions on garden tours – Tristan’s grave is the center of one of them – and she grows naturally and organically.
In July of 2007, when the gardens were thriving, an amendment was passed to the Medical Marijuana Bill that included patients with debilitating illnesses that produce persistent and intractable wasting syndrome, severe pain, nausea, or seizures – exactly Max’s symptoms.
There was only one hitch: Medical marijuana must be grown inside.
No matter how much land you have, no matter how discreet you might be, no matter what healthy gardens you are capable of growing, Medical Marijuana must be grown inside where room(s) must be dedicated to that growing, where electric lights and climate control must be utilized (using electricity and heating/cooling power that might double your household energy cost) to simulate the natural seasons (which are available free outside), and where chemical fertilizers and pesticides must be used to simulate nature’s own healthy growing conditions. Not exactly the kinds of things that severely ill people should be ingesting, and a whole lot more work than they can probably do and possibly afford.
Planting the gardens had been a kind of grief therapy for Sue. She had planted them at just about the anniversary of Tristan’s death. The marijuana plant is a beautiful plant – more beautiful, one might judge, than its cousins Foxglove, Poppy and Datura which produce, respectively, digitalis, opium, and atropine, all potentially useful drugs but also potentially deadly, and all of which you can see growing in most of our gardens. There is nothing deadly about marijuana or the useful chemical it produces, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is used for recreational, medicinal and spiritual purposes.
On August 2 of that year state police showed up at the Thayer gardens, hacked the plants down, destroyed them, and charged Sue with growing an illegal substance.
“It was heartbreaking,” says Sue, “to see those beautiful plants destroyed and know what benefit they would have been to Max, remembering what comfort they had brought to Tristan.”
|A recent photo of Max|
In August the Vermont Supreme Court denied Sue the chance to tell her story in a juried trial.
Her defense is one of “Necessity”, which admits the criminal act but claims justification. In other words the harm avoided (Max’s debilitating symptoms and possible death) must outweigh the harm caused (by planting marijuana), and the situation must present no reasonable legal alternative.
And indeed there was none when Sue planted the marijuana, because it was not legal to use marijuana for alleviation of Max’s symptoms. Once the law was amended to include Max’s symptoms, mid-summer, she lost that justification because she would then be allowed to grow marijuana, but only inside. So what is her crime? Not that of growing marijuana, but of growing it outside.
Indeed, as Chief Justice Paul Reiber put it in the findings, “The irony is that a statute that aimed to decriminalize certain uses of medical marijuana has effectively criminalized defendant’s actions in this case.”
This story, I think you’ll agree, is an amazing story – a tragic one, heartrending, but with glimpses of an almost otherworldly joy, and it must be heard!
A conversation about marijuana is difficult to have – though volumes have been written – because there is something about it that makes people uncomfortable. But talking about a mother who has lost one child and sees the possible loss of another, and the concomitant misery the disease produces that can be alleviated by the planting of a simple... seed into the ground, is a different matter. I cannot think of any mother who would not do everything in her power to keep her children safe and pain-free in the face of disease and death, no matter its legality.
I would. Wouldn’t you?
|Sue Thayer with daughter, Lucy|
This post was published in the Rutland Herald/Times Argus on 11/14