Cathy Jordan doesn’t let her amyotrophic lateral sclerosis stop her — even though, as she readily admits, she shouldn’t be alive at this point. She is, after all, at 67, one of the longest-surviving ALS patients.
“I turned 36 on New Year’s Day 1986. But during that first week, I knew I had ALS. I was hoping beyond hope I didn’t have ALS,” she recalls.
She went to see several doctors, who put her on muscle relaxants that made her cry. Then came mood-elevating drugs. “But I started choking on my own saliva. I didn’t want to end my life like that,” she says haltingly while sitting in the kitchen of her Parrish home.
In 1989, she flew from her home in Delaware to Florida. That’s when “I smoked my first Myakka Gold. I’m convinced that whatever was in that pot stopped my disease.”
ALS is fast, deadly
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is better known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” after the New York Yankees star who died of it on June 2, 1941, at 37. He was diagnosed in early 1939.
The progressive disease “attacks the nerve cells (neurons) responsible for controlling voluntary muscles. … Most people with ALS die from respiratory failure, usually within 3 to 5 years from the onset of symptoms. However, about 10 percent of those with ALS survive for 10 or more years,” according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, based in Bethesda, Md.
Cathy Jordan becomes an advocate
In 1998, Cathy helped to found, and served as the first president of, the Florida Cannabis Action Network (Florida CAN). She periodically travels from her Parrish home, south of Tampa, to places around the country to advocate for full use of cannabis.
She travels around the state even more frequently. She visits Tallahassee to lobby state legislators. She attends events that advocate for cannabis, such as last November’s Canna-Wellness Challenge, held in Melbourne; using her wheelchair, she participated in the 5K run.
She even had a proposed law named for her. Senate Bill 1250: Medical Cannabis, filed in 2013 by state Sen. Jeff Clemens, would have created the so-called “Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act.” The bill, which died in committee, would, among other things, have authorized “a qualifying patient to possess and administer medical cannabis …”
On Feb. 25, 2013, Bob recalls, “I was looking out the window and saw two (Manatee County) sheriff’s deputies approaching — hands on their weapons.”
That was the precursor to the arrival, later, of three Manatee County narcotics agents — “two in ski masks, one without,” Bob says. “One told me ‘All we want are your plants.’ Then Cathy said ‘You know you’re taking my medicine!'” Bob, who belongs to Florida Veterans for Cannabis, is a disabled vet who served in Vietnam from 1968-69.
The 12th Judicial Circuit’s State Attorney’s Office charged him with 23 counts of cultivation of marijuana. Bob hired a lawyer; insisted on a jury trial; and used, in his defense, Florida’s “doctrine of medical necessity.” He had not grown the cannabis to sell it.
“I was scared about going to trial,” Bob explains. But I knew no jury would convict me for keeping my wife alive.”
The case never went to trial. Brian Iten, then-division chief of the 12th Judicial Circuit’s State Attorney’s Office, wrote in an April 2, 2013, letter to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office that his office was dropping charges because “the State lacks a good faith belief it can overcome a medical necessity defense in this matter.” Iten is now a judge in the 12th Judicial Circuit.
“The war ain’t over”
These days, Cathy takes only one pharmaceutical — a muscle relaxant — before she goes to bed at night. She has no plans to stop advocating for the medication that, she firmly believes, has kept, and is keeping, her alive; neither does her husband.
Bob, like his wife, favors full legalization of cannabis, including for recreational use. He says, “We won the battle (passage of Amendment 2), but the war ain’t over. What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
Also like Cathy, he believes that more and more states will pass legislation allowing full use of cannabis — medical as well as recreational. He says, “States are going to look at all this tax revenue and want it. Politicians follow the money.”
Despite her challenges, including always using a wheelchair, Cathy remains committed to her cause celebre. “I’ll do this ’til the day I die. But I don’t want to die doing this (advocating for full cannabis use).” She would far prefer to see cannabis fully legalized, nationwide, and soon.
Cathy hasn’t lost her sense of humor: “I’ve been disabled since I was 36. I’ve long outlived my expiration date.”
On March 14, Cathy Jordan and other members of the Florida Cannabis Action Network will be in Tallahassee, lobbying legislators.
For more information about Florida CAN, visit flcan.net. For information about Florida’s Angels of Mercy, visit https://www.facebook.com/pg/Floridaslangelsofmercy/about.