Joni Whiting

Joni Whiting

Joni Whiting lost her daughter, Stephanie, to melanoma. After watching her daughter suffer, Joni was grateful for the relief that marijuana provided and was willing to risk arrest and imprisonment to permit her daughter to use marijuana in her home.

Good afternoon. My name is Joni Whiting and I appreciate the opportunity to tell my story.

However, I want to be clear from the outset: There’s nothing being done here in this room today that will benefit my family or me. There is nothing you can give to ease our pain. I will suffer the rest of my life for what I have lost.

I am here today only to tell you about a woman I loved and lost over 10 years ago. I ask only that you listen to her story, to walk just briefly in her shoes … and mine.

My daughter Stephanie was a wife, a loving mother of three and a beloved employee of Dart Distributing. Stephanie had a unique and beautiful voice, the voice of an angel.

In June of 2000, at 24 years of age, Stephanie was diagnosed with Melanoma skin cancer on her face. A mole had gone bad during her third pregnancy. It was already too late.

The next two years were filled with experimental therapies and endless surgeries, as they cut her face off, one inch at a time, until there was nothing left to cut. There was nothing to put back to cover the hole in her face. All but four of her teeth had been removed due to the side effects of the chemotherapy. The skin grafts had failed.

It was difficult for her to eat. The nausea was so severe that the medications gave her little to no relief.

A doctor at the hospital pulled me aside and told me that she may get some relief from smoking marijuana. But that wasn’t an acceptable option for me, or her, being drug-free. In addition, the legal ramifications associated with illegal use were frightening.

After her tenth surgery, all efforts to save her life had failed and her oncologist predicted that she had about six months to live. At that time, she was taking approximately 40 to 50 tablets of Oxycontin and 30 to 40 tablets of Roxicodone per day. Yet her pain was still evident in her every breath, in her every movement.

Her whole body was wracked with continuous and uncontrollable pain and her tumors continued to grow. There was nothing to stop it, nothing to slow it down, and the hope for a miracle faded as my child bravely began to make plans for the ending of her life.

When Zofran, the anti-nausea drug, continued to give her no relief, Stephanie began to lose weight. We asked her doctor to prescribe Marinol – a synthetic version of THC, one of the active chemical compounds in marijuana. But even taking this in pill form didn’t abate any of her symptoms and she stopped taking it because it didn’t work.

As her tumors grew larger, it became more and more difficult for her to eat. They were growing inside and outside of her mouth, her throat, and her chest.

My other adult children begged me to let her use marijuana and, when I refused, they took her out of my home. When she came back three days later, Stephanie told me that she’d gotten hungry after using it and that the marijuana had kicked up her appetite, as well as allowed her to keep the food down. She had eaten three meals a day … at a time when she’d routinely eat nothing for days. She had just a touch of energy back and she looked better then I had seen her in months.

For reasons I don’t know, marijuana also enhanced the effects of Stephanie’s pain medication and didn’t make her appear “high.” My only regret is not allowing her to use marijuana in my home throughout her illness. Yet the fear of being “caught” was significant. I called a number of family members and friends of our family and asked if they knew of anywhere we could purchase marijuana. The next morning, someone had placed a package of it on our doorstep. I have never known whom to thank for it but I remain grateful beyond belief.

I was prepared to defend my daughter’s use to anyone who asked. In retrospect, I can tell you with conviction that I would have no problem going to jail for acquiring medical marijuana for my suffering child. The law is unjust and I would have rather spent the rest of my life in prison then have denied her the medicine that kept her pain at bay and allowed her to live 89 more days.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”

I’m here today to tell you that I am no longer willing to support making criminals out of the sick and dying. I saw with my own eyes that medical marijuana worked. I have dedicated a large portion of my own life to helping people stay clean and drug-free and I see no contradiction in this at all. My daughter was able to eat for nearly three more months because of marijuana. I allowed her to use it in my home before meals because it worked and helped her and every day of her life was precious to her and her three small children. We had Thanksgiving and Christmas with her at the table that year. Having her there was priceless.

Shortly after, Stephanie was placed on 24 hour nursing care and could no longer use medical marijuana. Her pain was so severe that when she asked my husband and me to lie down on both sides of her and hold her, she couldn’t stand the pain of us touching her body. She was on IV morphine and moaned in pain continuously. Her hospice nurses were so disturbed by the severity of her pain that they finally used IV Lidocaine to numb her. The morphine, even at the strongest dose allowed by law, wasn’t giving her any relief.

On January 14th, 2003 at 1:30 in the morning, with her beloved children sleeping in their beds in the other rooms, Stephanie died in the room she grew up in, holding my hand. Her strong heart continued to beat for nearly three minutes. She was 26 years old.

They say there’s no greater loss then that of a child for a parent. They’re right.

For this government to deny those who need medical marijuana to lessen the severity of their pain, nausea, and seizures is unjustifiable. To threaten the sick and dying, and their loved ones, with jail is unconscionable.

I’m a Vietnam veteran and my youngest son has recently returned from 18 months in Iraq. We are a family that honors this country, having served it in the military in every conflict since the Revolutionary War.

I don’t use drugs. I don’t abuse alcohol. I’ve raised four children. I’m currently raising the children my daughter had to leave behind.

What would you have done, had you been in my shoes? Could you sleep at night when your child is screaming in pain? What price would you be willing to pay to relieve the suffering of someone you love?

The fact is you can’t do anything for me. But there are others in similar situations right now in Minnesota. They deserve compassion, dignity, and honor. And you can provide some amount of relief to them by passing this bill.

Thank you.