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Rockingham veteran Perry Parks to speak to American Legion on health benefits of cannabis

Richmond County Daily Journal - 2/27/2017

Feb. 25--ROCKINGHAM -- Perry Parks is taking his fight to use cannabis as medicine to the nation's capital next week.

Parks, a retired U.S. Army helicopter pilot, is scheduled to speak at the American Legion'sWashington Conference on Monday, with more than 100 Legionnaires expected to attend.

The invitation comes following a teleconference earlier this month when Parks detailed his personal research and use of cannabis to treat PTSD and chronic pain.

"I'm starting with the background -- why don't you read these magazines? There are whole magazines devoted to this topic and tell you how we screwed up," he said Friday afternoon, listing events in the last century that led to the criminalization of the plant, and research into its medicinal properties.

Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the federal government, which infers that it has no medical value. However, the government also holds a patent on cannabanoids. While many were hopeful late last year that it would be re-scheduled, the feds, instead, kept it there and included all extracts -- including oils that have been used to treat seizures in children.

Parks said he wasn't sure whether or not he would wear his uniform or not, which he has often donned when approaching politicians on the subject.

"There's a certain air of respectability that doesn't quite fit with the pot user," he said. "The other thing is it calls attention to a disgraceful situation for the veterans, that if they treat their injuries with cannabis in 29 states that's cool, but in the other 21 -- like me -- they're subject to arrest."

PATIENT, NOT A CRIMINAL

In the years that Parks has been vocal as a cannabis user and advocate, he has never had any trouble with the law.

However, that all changed late last month when he was boarding a plane at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport to visit his daughter in New York. The Transportation Security Administration searched his bags and found his "medicine."

He is now facing a felony charge for possession of marijuana.

"As far as I'm concerned, this is not criminal activity," he said. "Criminal activity, to me, has a definition...and I don't fit the definition of a criminal, I don't think. I fit the definition of a patient who's being criminalized and subjected to arrest because I choose to treat myself with this -- which in 1999 they said was one of the safest substances we could put in our bodies -- then the things that I know are killing me."

Before switching to cannabis, Parks was being prescribed 10 mg of hydrocodone and 650 mg of acetaminophen three times per day.

"That's (almost) 2,000 mg of Tylenol a day, every day...so we're killing our veterans with the pills," he said. "And because I refuse to take the pills that are known to cause injury to me, and because I function better and my life seems better with the cannabis, I wouldn't go back to it for anything."

The only reason Parks fears being incarcerated is because it would cut in to his income and support for his family.

"That's unfair to them," he said.

Parks is being represented by Asheville attorney Ben Scales, who specializes in medical cannabis cases.

"I think most people are outraged that something like this happens," he said.

According to a slide show by the American Civil Liberties Union, 52 percent of all drug arrests were for marijuana, with law enforcement making pot busts every 37 seconds.

He says legalization, and allowing people to grow their own, would cut into the profits of the drug cartels.

MOVING UP

Parks said he hopes that his American Legion testimony will lead to an appearance with the newly formed Cannabis Caucus, a bipartisan caucus with U.S. Representatives from Oregon, California, Colorado and Alaska.

Back in North Carolina, Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, has again introduced a bill to permit medical cannabis in the Tar Heel State.

The bill, filed Wednesday, has three other primary sponsors and several other sponsors -- all Democrats from Mecklenburg, Wake, Durham, Forsyth and Buncombe counties.

Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.

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