To those who have been paying attention to the Florida Sheriffs Association’s objections to Amendment 2, a measure that would legalize the medical use of marijuana in our state, it may all seem like politics as usual. To me, though, it’s all very personal, and their ill-considered opposition to this measure fills me with a profound sense of bitterness and disappointment.
Until not long ago, I too belonged to the law enforcement community, as a correctional officer sergeant in a maximum-security prison. My career was cut short in September 2011 when an inmate attacked me, resulting in what the state deemed a catastrophic disability. As a result of that incident, I sustained multiple facial and cervical fractures as well as spinal cord damage. I now suffer from neuropathy in my right leg and hand, have debilitating headaches three to six times a week and am forced to walk with a cane.
In order to alleviate my suffering, I was put on an opioid regimen that left me doped up and vulnerable to liver toxicity, addiction and the risk of an overdose. My mood deteriorated, and I felt as if I would never be the same person again.
One night, during a barbecue, one of my friends took me aside and asked if I had ever tried marijuana to help with my conditions. I said I hadn’t but would be willing to give it a shot. He handed me some, and as I proceeded to consume it I felt as if a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My pain suddenly became incredibly distant, and my anxiety seemed to dissolve into thin air.
The sense of relief was nothing short of astonishing. As we pulled into our driveway at the end of the night, my wife looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I am so glad to have my husband back.”
Unfortunately for both of us, that episode remains nothing but a short, happy memory. I refuse to put my freedom on the line by using an illegal substance for my ailments, and since I, like many others, am drug-tested every 30 days as a condition of receiving pain management, I do not want to risk the rest of my treatments as well.
All of this has put me on the opposite side of this issue from many of my former colleagues, and it pains me to see their apparent disregard for those of us who suffer daily from physical and mental injuries incurred on the job and whose suffering could be dramatically alleviated by the use of medical marijuana.
For as long as I can remember, I believed that my brothers in blue would always look out for me, in good times or bad. The Florida Sheriffs Association’s opposition to Amendment 2, however, signals to me and others like me that we have been left behind by some of those we trusted the most.
To those in law enforcement who are standing in the way of this amendment, please remember that this debate is not about politics; it’s about people’s health, including the health of some of those officers who once stood next to you in the line of duty and risked their lives along with yours to fulfill the greatest purpose we know: protecting and serving our communities.
Phillip Castelucci is a retired sergeant and certified correctional officer who worked at the Taylor Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison in Perry.
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