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Missouri Police Searched a Hospitalized Cancer Patient for Cannabis. Here’s Why

March 11, 2019
(ADragan/iStock)
The case of a Stage 4 cancer patient in Missouri searched by police for marijuana in his hospital bed sparked a nerve nationwide over the weekend. It also demonstrated the limits of medical cannabis laws in Missouri and other states.

On Wednesday, Mar. 6, pancreatic cancer patient Nolan Sousley of Bolivar, MO, went live on  Facebook while local police searched his hospital room at Citizens Memorial Hospital.

Hospital security reportedly called the police after smelling marijuana in Sousley’s room. Sousley’s video of police asking to search his “final day” bag of prescription drugs and personal effects drew massive outrage as well as over 750,000 views, and coverage by USA Today and Time magazine.

Bolivar police did not find cannabis, nor cite or arrest Sousley, who said he did not smoke in his hospital room.

Rather, Sousley said that prior to police being called, he took THC oil capsules in the parking lot, and hit a flavored tobacco cigarette.

Sousley’s encounter riled up online watchers. The latest Quinnipiac polls indicate that 93% of Americans support the legalization of medical marijuana. Last weekend’s viral video tapped into widespread anger over wasted police resources, and a healthcare establishment that continues to stigmatize cannabinoids while profiting from opioids.

An online mob is flooding communications channels at the hospital, the police department, and other Bolivar city departments.

Critics note that Missouri voters legalized medical cannabis last November. That’s true—but legal access might be at least nine months away.

Related

A Patient’s Guide to Using Cannabis for Cancer

Missouri MMJ Hasn’t Started Yet

“It’s legal in Missouri,” Sousley said to the responding officer in the video. “They just haven’t finished the paperwork. But I don’t have time to wait for that. What would you do?”

Indeed, Missouri Amendment 2 passed resoundingly Nov. 6 with 65% of the vote amid high voter turnout. In some states, medical marijuana initiatives made possession of cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation legal within weeks of state certification of the vote. That didn’t happen in Missouri. Instead, passage of Amendment 2 merely started the clock on a state medical cannabis program that’s yet to get launched.

According to Missouri NORML State Coordinator Dan Viets, prospective patients with a qualifying letter from their doctor could begin applying for a state medical cannabis card as soon as July 4, 2019—the day the state applications may come out.

That means the earliest a patient like Sousley could be legally qualified would be Aug. 5, 2019. That qualification would then entitle him to possess cannabis and consume it in private.

“Patients will be protected in terms of possession for personal use as soon as they receive that qualification from the state,” said Viets.

Related

Here’s Why Most Pharmacists Won’t Touch Medical Cannabis

No Legal Source ‘til 2020

But how does someone like Sousley obtain cannabis? That’s tricky.

He or a caregiver could try to grow up to six plants in an enclosed, locked facility equipped with security devices, as required by Amendment 2.

That might take at least five months—two months to vegetate plants, two months to flower, and one to harvest, dry, and cure. (Assuming you can illegally obtain some cannabis seeds.)

So if Nolan Sousley wants to legally consume medical cannabis, he’s looking at Jan. 1, 2020, at the soonest.

If Sousley wants to buy it from a legal Missouri dispensary, that probably won’t happen until later in 2020.

Amendment 2 calls for dispensary applications to come out by Aug. 3, 2019. The state must process applications within 150 days of receipt. So you’re looking at potentially Jan. 3, 2020 for the first state retail licenses — plus the time it takes to get other typical approvals like local approvals for zoning, conditional use, etc.

In reality, patients like Sousley are already obtaining cannabis outside licensed channels, which amplifies risks like the one in his video.

Related

Cannabis and Cancer

Hospitals Remain a No-Go Zone

Even after medical cannabis becomes legal, licensed, and available, don’t expect to consume any non-prescription form of it in a hospital. Medical facilities like Citizens Memorial Hospital may legally prohibit cannabis on hospital property, despite the legalities contained in state law.

That’s despite growing clinical evidence of cannabis’ efficacy for cancer-related pain, nausea, vomiting, spasticity, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.

California has had legal medical cannabis since 1996. But in 2019, state medical and adult-use laws remain out of sync with the various policies of doctors, hospitals, and insurers. For one, hospital policies generally do not permit cannabis use on-site. Cannabis is a federal Schedule I drug, which means the federal government considers it as dangerous as heroin and PCP.

Viets said patients in legal states frequently report having to do what Sousley did: Medicate in the parking lot, keep their cannabinoid use ‘off the medical chart,’ and risk having their cannabis products seized by hospital staff or police.

Healthcare providers often cite legal concerns about their federal funding, or issues of smoke or smell, potential drug interactions, and the paucity of cannabis science.

But Viets said US healthcare providers often don’t have written cannabinoid policies, or they fail to publish them and inform patients. Those providers need to write—and widely publish— cannabinoid policies, so consumers know what kind of healthcare services they are buying.

Related

Doctors Want More Information on Medical Cannabis, Study Finds

After the Furor

Over the weekend, Sousley asked the online mob to relent on local police and hospital staff, and put their energy toward forcing systemic change.

He stated in a letter to the local newspaper that he hopes the viral video helps advance medical cannabis rights nationwide, and helps ensure the dignity of the sick and dying.

“It is my desire that this entire situation be used for good — politicians should stop trying to limit our right to use cannabis and its derivatives,” he wrote.

“We are all human beings … treat everyone the way you want to be treated.”

Viets notes that police and hospital staff have wide discretion in these matters, and they should exercise that discretion wisely.

“There’s just not a reason to treat anyone the way they did,” Viets said.

Viets said Sousley is fired up by this fight, which might be the last of his life.

“He was strong in his spirits. Physically, he’s not,” Viets said of Sousley. “He hopes that this incident will help to prevent other patients from going through what he suffered.”

David Downs's Bio Image

David Downs

David Downs directs news and lifestyle coverage as the California Bureau Chief for Leafly.com. He's written for WIRED, Rolling Stone and Billboard, and is the former cannabis editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as the author of several cannabis books including 'Marijuana Harvest' by Ed Rosenthal and David Downs. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. TW: @davidrdowns | IG @daviddowns

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  • John

    Because they’re full of shit and have nothing better to do.. let’s avoid the real crime and go after harmless patients! That man was clearly a threat to society.. clearly. Time to stop wasting resources on pointless crimes that do not mean anything. I bet he was also prescribed opiates of course, but I’m sure the police made sure that they warned him about a citing about that! Follow that golden road for easy money! Oh and make sure you’re taking your benzodiazepines! Remember… if it is made in lab and is FDA approved it must be safe! The smell of alcohol lingering after one consumes it is by far worse of a smell… gross.

    • cici

      John, well said ..thank you 🙂

    • jim heffner

      In the late ’70’s or early ’80s I was hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail. I’m a Nam Vet and I haven’t had a drink or hard drug since January 7th 1976 or a cigarette since July 4th 1978. I later learned I was emulating my cousin Earl Shaffer, the first through hiker of the AT, After returning from WWII he took to the trail and called it the Walking Cure. I hadn’t had any protein since the Pa Maryland line. Early one morning I had to follow a couple of miles of blacktop to a footbridge across the Swat Arrow Creek when I spotted the neon of a country barroom. My mouth was watering over the thought of greasy Cheeseburgers and fatty French Fries. My memory of the odors that hit me as I walked into that barroom have helped me remain sober and tobacco free to this day..Sour draft beer and rancid tobacco smoke hit me full bore. After a week or so of no smog, no electrical hum and the sweet smell of growing things I had to fight to keep my Ramen Noodles and brown rice down. This near instant nausea banished the thought of refueling my body’s protein content.
      I know olfactory memories are partly dependent on the situation when you first experience them but I can’t imagine anyone preferring a barroom to the aroma of growing or smoked Cannabis..
      Next time you thank a Vet for our service how about helping to ensure the rights we fought for and let us grow our own….legally.

      • Christy Pappas

        AMEN!!! If you can read thank a teacher. If you can read in English thank a veteran!!!!!!

    • Scooter Bell

      Legalize it – puff-and-pass – Congress sign the bill and get off your a@@! :]
      Nolan: I’m sorry for your cancer, you are amazing for your strength and will to fight!

  • jim heffner

    To become a bureaucrat or a LEO do you need to remain unaware of the consequences of your actions? If anyone loses their job over this, never fear, there are openings in the Airline industry and the White House. Is this just another example of the failure of our educational system by not addressing the decision making process or is it part of the group of ideal jobs for the “I was Just following orders” group? If you follow the news you’ll realize that this is not an isolated situation especially when addressing the re-legalization of Cannabis. For some reason there are people out there who ignore the facts about Cannabis and continue to obstruct its re-legalization through over regulation, over taxation and enforcement of laws that are based on lies and that serve no logical purpose.
    It’s 2019 and the full re-legalization train is coming so it’s time to get off the tracks.

  • Jeffery Hays Black

    I honestly doubt 93% of Americans are in favor of medical MJ. I am a medical user myself in Pennsylvania, which just started allowing the dried flower last year. It helps me immensely. Chronic pain from a pinched nerve is mitigated, Aching muscles in my legs eases…..I have been able to cut my prescriptions by 1/2-2/3’s. However we should all be permitted to grow our own medicine….why does the government tax health and medicine? Thats like taxing the air and water…..the government doesn’t own nature and her plants, created for us. My view is MAGA means allowing us freedom for the pursuit of happiness.

    • Toad Wallop

      Medical marijuana isn’t taxed, at least not in Maryland, where I get it. If it says an 1/8 is 40 bucks, then you pay 40 bucks. We should be able to grow our own, but I wouldn’t bother, even if I could. I like vape carts, and having all different varieties, and wax, etc. It’s not possible to grow and process all that. I’m not growing a garden, too much work, when I already have a job. lol

      • Charles Self

        Work or no work, I’m mostly wheelchair bound and my wife has enough to do. Also, I can’t smoke it. I was a long time heavy smoker, quit at 50, 30 years ago. Still have lung damage.

        • Toad Wallop

          Lung damage from weed? You are 80 years old, man. You already passed life expectancy. I know that sounds harsh, but a lot of people don’t see 80. I’m almost half your age, but I don’t care to live past 65. Life is boring to me already.

  • Seth Tyrssen

    THIS IS AN OUTRAGE. Hell, the guy is nearing his end and he knows it. Who gives a shit if he wants to smoke a joint, or anything else he might want to do? As Praetor for the Temple of Ankh’n’Abis/Church of the Sacred Herb, I urge EVERYONE to continue to bombard the hospital and the police with phone calls, emails, whatever — express your fury and indignation!!!

  • Charles Self

    A year or so ago, VA took me off morphine for pain their missteps caused. Why? I had used THC once to boost my morphine. Something over 40 years since I’d last tried the stuff. This whole load of horseshit traces back to Harry Anslinger & J. Edgar in the ’30s. Incidentally, the TCH worked to boost the woefully small dose of morphine. Wish I had some now.

    • mollyculelove

      Im very sorry that happened to you. That’s not right. I read this article on here a few weeks back and even printed it for my pain doctor because it was interesting thought you might find it interesting. Sorry your doctors aren’t more informed maybe email it to them..🤦🏻‍♀️
      https://www.leafly.com/news/health/how-opioids-marijuana-work-together-for-pain-relief

      • Charles Self

        It’s not the doctors, it’s the entire damned infrastructure. “It’s illegal.” No shit, but it worked and isn’t habit forming. Ah well. Acetaminophen sorta semi-slightly-works but not much.

  • Why DoeKnow

    I was born and raised in Missouri and I am so sad but not surprised!

    IMO I believe most states that passed medical marijuana laws will have similar issues because despite the voter’s saying yes, the legislatures including governors are trying to delay, stall or block enactment of what the voters said they wanted!

    Voters should start voting out those politicians who get elected and pass laws opposite of what their constitutes want or need.

    • Patriot9/11

      You have it right … we must vote out the politicians that don’t have the message on marijuana. All the letters in the world won’t get action like kicking them out; regardless of party affiliation.

  • Lee Butcher

    Ahh, my Sweet Home, Missouri. Sounds almost archaic now days, but this is life in Mizery. The state’s legislators sit on their hands if something gets around them, like this 2 to 1 vote on medical. To show how thoroughly uncaring of their constituents votes these guys are, the same congress is now trying to get around two other major Missouri victories last fall. The same margin of citizens voted to reverse the new right to work law the republicans came up with last summer when Eric Greitons, (then governor, now shamed runner-away after his Trump imitation that nearly got him impeached [he quit when the day a judge said he had to turn over his secret campaign donors list]). As we speak, they are trying to figure out how to either turn that over or gut it, against the people’s will. These acts alone would be bad enough, but the voters also overwhelmingly elected to impose a new Clean Missouri law on our own lawmakers, to stop the lobbyists from buying the votes of the senate and house members, and to stop gerrymandering of election districts in the favor of the republicans, who are in majority here. Within a week, they were saying how it was “illegal” (???), and are hurriedly trying every trick in the book to get the law that the citizens want in order to keep them straight, kicked out. BTW, my wife and I were in Bolivar, about 3 hours away, the other day for a short period. It’s a real small town, in the center of old Missou. Sort of like the town Arlo Guthrie was in when Obie the cop made him pick up the trash. Except this guy is fighting the battle of his life. It’s times like these that make me wonder who’s steering the ship, and have they even looked at the compass lately?

  • MXJ222

    Is that really necessary?

    Give it a break dude.

  • Michael Gulliver

    From a Vet…lol

  • Dirk Voorhees

    How stupid can the cops be? He’s dying, trying to help himself feel better in the last days of life. How about a little compasion & humanity.

  • Marc Dobis

    As a MMJ patient, I see the appearent lack of compassion here. BUT, the police were summoned to a call. That’s their JOB. There were NOT disrespectful, they stated their reason. They have to “follow the laws for their state as public servants/defenders”… That’s it. AND “NO DEBATE”…..

    • mollyculelove

      I agree with you. The one in the wrong was the nurse or other practitioner who overstepped and called the police to begin with. But the police were professional from all appearances. Sad they got trolled and harassed so bad.

  • Seeker of Truth

    Cannabis kills cancer. Plain and simple. That is the reason it is in the same category as Heroin on a Federal level. People in Congress get very well compensated by Big Pharma to keep it that way. None of them want you to have an actual cure, because that is how Big Pharma loses customers. They want to manage your symptoms while keeping you sick. The very last thing the Federal Government wants is for you to find out that they have had the cure for a very long time. So they keep the cure illegal so they can arrest and discredit anyone that has taken Cannabis and have had successful results. If this goes before the SCOTUS, they will side with the supremacy clause and rule the States actions unconstitutional. And since Congress is in the pockets of Big Pharma, you can count on it staying that way.

  • Seeker of Truth

    ..

  • 360dunk

    “We’d rather you lay in bed like a zombie while we shove Percocet and Oxycontin down your throat. We wouldn’t want you to spend the final days trying to stimulate your appetite and nourish your body after all those chemo treatments. You’ll be easier to lift out of bed if you weigh 75 pounds.”

  • terry208

    Thank God he wasn’t Black, he’d have a back full of bullets.

  • 24 Hour Man

    Sure if he had poisonous OPIOIDS no problem hospitals and doctors get plenty of paybacks for prescribing that addictive crap…cannabis is natural and stigmatized by the feds and law enforcement so this treatment of patients will continue to happen again and again

    • Charles Self

      VA would have been fine keeping me on morphine for the rest of my life, without TCH. Lifetime ban now that they found one time use. It might have been nice to know: I’d have refused to pee in their cup, as a start.

  • Sharon Cox

    Legal companies like CannaSense can help patients like him. Do research. It’s not impossible. I lived in Arkansas and had a valid mmj license from california. As a valid mmj patient your meds ARE available to you…. Keep looking. It’s much closer then 2020

  • mollyculelove

    You know this is just terrible. Like truly makes me sad and outraged. I bet this was one jerk nurse who was going over his medication list and decided to get a stick up their butt about legalities and call the police. Guess what you messed up. You didn’t handle this right. AT ALL. The patient did by telling you everything he had consumed regardless of it it meant he might get in trouble doubt he knew cops would be called and his privacy would go out the window.

    I was just hospitalized for 8 days and I don’t disclose my cannabis that I have a card for because of how nurses and doctors act. I’ve learned my lesson. Only certain doctors know and are ok with it. When I was in the hospital coming up on day 8 I had a nurse that found out about my medical cannabis (out right asked if I used it bc her husband had the same disease but then turned rude when she found out) and then immediately when I got my doctor visit with a new provider they decided to cut my meds and discharge me that day even though the provider the day before wanted to keep me another two days, and that had been treating me for my full stay.

    There is a lot of truth to this article I’m just lucky it’s legal in my state and I didn’t use anything outside the hospital or carry anything in. However it would be nice if patients would be able to because it would have helped my pain a lot to have my medicine in there! I wish this article had what happened to him after the camera cut out..guess I’ll look it up.

  • Bryan T

    Don’T smoke it but vape it or even better bake it into foods it last longer. We spend too much tax dollars with it being illegal. I live in Idaho were Idaho government is being stupid. most people ARE FOR IT medically.